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Out of the woods

November 12 2009
A project for mental health patients uses the healing power of nature How many of us at some point or another have taken a walk to 'clear our head' and reaped the benefits? The answer is, likely, almost all of us. With this in mind, Branching Out, an innovative project for mental health patients in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, was piloted by Forestry Commission Scotland, in a bid to use woodland areas and the natural environment to promote the health and wellbeing of people living in urban areas. With more and more of us living in crowded cities, it can sometimes seem difficult to reconnect with nature and embrace its therapeutic effects, and an increasing number of people are suffering from mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. The innovative project recognised this and is using the healing power of nature as a rehabilitative treatment. The initiative is a free service, which aims to treat patients through nature activities over a 12-week period, for around three hours each week. Activities include physical activities such as health walks and tai chi, conservation work such as rhododendron clearance and coppicing, bush craft and shelter-building, and photography and sculpture. At the end of the 12-week course, participants are presented with certificates marking their achievements, and have the opportunity to share their experiences. Research confirmed that the 'Branching Out' project not only increased the physical activity of those involved, but that participants have seen improvements in areas such as self-esteem, confidence, motivation, sense of achievement and social skills. One member of the mental health team said: "In terms of outcomes, I've noticed improvements in motivation, a broadening of interests, confidence, social skills and improved symptom management." Many of the clients themselves have also noticed changes in their general wellbeing and have greatly profited from the entire experience. One enthused: "I just think it's a great project and it's really affected my life... it's something that I can remember." Many claim it has helped them socially due to the team-building exercises, and many more have claimed it has boosted their confidence. One thankful client said: "It's opened my mind up again." Given the project's popularity, it is likely that in the new year, Branching Out will also be working with Forensic Services, Addiction Services Glasgow and Glasgow North ESF Project/Glasgow South Integrated Services (SAMH/NHS). It is a referral service, so to take part in the course you must be referred as part of a mental health service group. For more information, contact Kirsty Cathrine, Community and Environment Ranger: