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Mental Health Awareness week | Promoting mental well-being through engagement with nature

THE UNIVERSITY South Wales (USW) has secured £149,980 from the Medical Research Council for the ‘Healthy Young Minds’ project.

The project, conducted in partnership with Children and Adolescent Mental Health service (NHS Highland), aims to co-produce an early intervention programme with high school students to promote mental well-being through engagement with nature and local green spaces.

Led by Dr Sara Bradley, USW, and Dr Nick Barnes, NHS Highland, the programme will be co-produced with rural students from five secondary schools in the Scottish Highlands to promote mental well-being, increase resilience and reduce anxiety.

The outcomes will not only contribute to academic understanding but also inform service planning and delivery, benefiting rural communities nationally.

Dr Bradley said: “Poor mental health is experienced by many young people, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic, and poses a significant health challenge, nationally and globally.  Levels of anxiety are increasing, fuelled by fears about issues like climate change, examinations, body image and cyberbullying. In rural areas, young people are particularly isolated and experience challenges in accessing services, reinforcing health inequalities.

“The aim is to develop ideas for a nature-based well-being intervention through a series of workshops with students. Involving the students in the programme design is key to engaging and motivating them. Enabling them to take ownership will increase chances of acceptability, adoption and sustainability. The workshops will increase self-confidence, build skills and give students an opportunity to discuss their views on mental health. 

“Our aim is to develop an intervention framework to be trialled in a follow-on pilot.”

Dr Nick Barnes, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, NHS Highland, said: “We are hugely excited to be part of this study, exploring the how nature and access to green spaces can impact on the mental health and wellbeing of young people in rural settings.

“Building on the known evidence that this approach to support children and young people can have a significant impact on health inequalities, we really welcome having the opportunity to work alongside young people to determine what is important to them when co-designing and coproducing nature-based interventions in accessible green spaces.”

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