Branching Out for Better Mental Health

‘Branching Out’ – an innovative outdoor activity programme available to adults who use mental health services in the Forth Valley area – has received a prestigious Physical Activity and Health Alliance (PAHA) award from NHS Health Scotland in recognition of its commitment to encouraging more people to be more active.

The award was presented at the 7th National PAHA Conference in Edinburgh on 24 April 2014, attended by Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games and Sport Shona Robison.

The Branching Out programme, which was pioneered by Forestry Commission Scotland, was designed to improve the health and well-being of adults with long-term mental health problems.

The programme is delivered in Forth Valley by Forestry Commission Scotland and NHS Forth Valley, with support from Forth Valley College.

The project offers woodland and outdoor activities on referral for mental health service users.   For each client, the service consists of approximately three hours of activities per week in a woodland setting over a 12 week period.  Activities include health walks, conservation projects, bushcraft activities and tai chi.

The programme is currently available at eight other NHS board areas across Scotland, including Lothian, Ayrshire and Arran, Tayside, Fife, Highland, Borders, Lanarkshire and Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Hugh McNish, Central Scotland Health Advisor at Forestry Commission Scotland said: “People with mental health problems are less likely to engage in physical activity for a number of reasons, including social isolation, low self-esteem, physical health conditions and medication side effects.

“Branching Out aims to act as a stepping stone to encourage individuals to move on to more inclusive activities within the community, whilst also acting as a crucial part of their treatment for their mental health issues.  Winning this PAHA Award is testament to all the hard work of the partners involved and the clients it benefits.”

Sharon Allison, PAHA Coordinator said: “Branching Out has been running in Scotland since 2007 and continues to flourish, developing new ways to support NHS boards to enable their patients to become more active.  The partnership working approach and knowledge of the outdoors make theBranching Out opportunity a fantastic first step into activity for often vulnerable mental health users.

“Attendance at the Branching Out programme has been unusually high for a mental health group.  Part of the appeal seems to be that the physical activity is incorporated within activities rather than being a purpose in itself.”

Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games and Sport Shona Robison said: “I’m delighted to congratulate Branching Out on its success in the Physical Activity and Health Alliance Awards (PAHA) 2014. It’s fantastic to know that there is so much innovative and truly deserving work taking place around Scotland to make the nation more active. Our legacy ambition from the Commonwealth Games is to increase physical activity levels and ultimately better health for all, and Branching Out is a creative project that is making this aim a reality for many people.”