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Mental Health Awareness week which takes place next week (May 10-16) has the theme of Nature this year.
Connections with the natural world have proven benefits to mental health and
wellbeing with time spent outdoors immersed in nature shown to reduce stress and anxiety and improve concentration and attention.
As the Outdoors Capital of the world we could expect Lochaber to have a robust and resilient level of mental health and wellbeing, and yet we are all too aware that the statistics show anything but.
In fact our area has a frightening high level of reported mental health issues and devastating numbers of suicides, particularly in young people.
This disparity is something which The Buzz Project and Ewen’s Room are keen to understand and tackle.
The Buzz Project is a Fort William-based organisation which works with young people in the area aged 14-25 to identify and realise their potential through increasing skills and confidence.
Mental health and wellbeing charity Ewen’s Room works with people of all ages to
provide services and support and has a programme supporting young people through local schools with counselling and education.
Ewen’s Room and The Buzz Project have teamed up on a partnership project on Building Natural Capital, which aims to work with young people to explore and understand the barriers there may be in accessing the very outdoors activities and nature connections on our doorstep which could have such beneficial effects.
I spoke with Hugh Asher from Ewen’s Room about the project and he told me: ‘If apparent ease of access to the outdoors was the only determinant of mental health and wellbeing though, this area should also be famous for being The Wellbeing and Happiness Capital of the UK.
Hugh, who coordinates volunteers on the Ewen’s Room telephone helpline and textline which takes regular calls from people in crisis, continued: ‘Sadly, we know this is not the case for the young people of Fort William and surrounding areas of West Lochaber, which have experienced a high level of self-inflicted death and problematic substance use in recent years.’
The project, which is in the early stages of information gathering has long-term goals of finding solutions to any barriers and enabling young people to engage and connect with nature and outdoors in the hopes of improving mental wellbeing.
Hugh explained: ‘We are currently looking for the views and experiences of young people in Lochaber and have an online questionnaire which only takes a few minutes to fill out.
‘We’d love to get as many views as possible to help us understand how young people engage with the outdoors. To encourage people to complete the questionnaire everyone who fills it in will be entered into a prize draw for some fantastic outdoor activity related goodies.’
The questionnaire is open to anyone in the Lochaber area aged 14-25 and the link to it can be found at https://www.ewensroom.com/education/building-natural-capital/
Photograph in January 2021 dated folder NO-F04-HughAsherSitSpot-scaled.jpg