Great White Egret

Joe Harkness describes himself as a birdwatcher, nature lover, aspiring writer and football fanatic.

Two years ago he was diagnosed with OCD and generalised anxiety disorder. Here he tells British Bird Lovers how bird watching has helped him manage his symptoms.

“A lot of people ask me 'Why do you like birding?' My initial response is usually something along the lines of 'I really enjoy it and I firmly believe in its therapeutic value.' Depending on the person asking, I may then wax lyrical about how it has helped me with my own mental health. Invariably, every time I walk away from one of these discourses I find myself trying to justify the statement to myself. It is at these junctures of thought that I realise that the entire notion is none other than my own subjective opinion.

“So at the start of 2015, I pushed this thought out of its metaphorical bubble and asked myself 'I wonder if anybody else feels this way about birding too?' Granted, a few people I know through birding circles have conversed with me about the subject, so I was aware that it did sit well with some people. With this question, the seed was sown for the writing project that I’m telling you about right now; bird therapy.

“I suffer from OCD and generalised anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed in 2013 and throughout the past year or so I have been learning to manage my symptoms and compulsions. OCD can affect my work, my home life, my relationships and just about every decision and thought processes I make.

“I love the countryside and being outdoors and I try to get out as much as possible, even just to 'get some fresh air' and 'stretch my legs'. I began to take more notice of what was going on around me and a childhood interest was re-ignited when I visited Hickling Broad NWT with my Grandad as a late birthday trip for him. We were lucky enough to see a Great White Egret, a Spoonbill and a Bittern. That was it, I was hooked.

“Taking on a new interest, especially one with such magnitude as birding, could have been a recipe for disaster. Instead birding has given me a positive focus; especially in managing my obssessive behaviours such as organisation, categorisation and list making. This also means that I can channel my symptomatic behaviours into birding in a way that alleviates them from my daily life.”

Joe is keen to talk to other people for whom birding has had a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing. He is currently in the process of researching and drafting a book entitled Bird Therapy about his experiences and is seeking the input of others to supplement his own

Joe says, “I hope that my experiences and ideas can become something both readable and informative and look forward to hearing from other people.”

Joe is documenting his journey on his blog at where he is inviting people to take part in a survey to help him collate information.

You can also follow Joe on Twitter at @Joe_Harkness.

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