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National Park celebrates stories of nature supporting people’s mental health

Enjoyment of the outdoors in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is helping people’s mental wellbeing post-lockdown and giving them a deeper appreciation for nature.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, the National Park Authority is sharing and celebrating stories from people who have benefited from feeling more connected to nature and as a result have a greater respect for the Park’s amazing environment.

Organised by the Mental Health Foundation, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is Nature, focussing on the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. The charity’s research found that going for walks outside has been a popular coping strategy during the pandemic, with 45% of people reporting that being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health.

After both lockdowns, the National Park saw a surge of visitors keen to get back out into the outdoors as well as people taking up new outdoor activities such as open water swimming, hillwalking, camping and cold water therapy.

As well as the physical health benefits of outdoor recreation, these activities are also helping people’s mental wellbeing and, for many, building a sense of pride in looking after special places like the National Park.

Danielle McGinlay from West Dunbartonshire never saw herself as the kind of person who would enjoy plunging into icy lochs for pleasure. Now she can’t go more than a week without heading to Loch Lomond, where she immerses herself in the water come rain or shine, or even snow.

The 30-year-old mum took to cold water therapy after a tough 2020 saw her mental health suffer. She is now passionate about the benefits and vocal about taking care of the National Park.

She explained: “I have had issues on and off with my mental health for years and returning to work in a nursing home last year during Covid wasn’t easy. I was having panic attacks and couldn’t sleep.

“I had never done anything like cold water therapy before but I have found something that really works for me. Being in the cold water surrounded by nature eliminates any anxious thoughts or worries reducing tension and stress on the mind and body. The tranquillity of the Loch allows my mind to be completely still and enjoy the present moment.

“I have had such amazing benefits from being here that I am really passionate about looking after the place. We arrived at the bay recently to find loads of litter and bottles lying around so we decided to do a clean-up. We got the kids involved too and posted on social media about it, encouraging people to clean up after themselves when they visit beautiful places like this. It felt good to take care of the area.”

Lorna Kerr rediscovered her love of the outdoors after being invited to climb Ben Lomond with a friend during a particularly tough time in her life. She had begun suffering from anxiety attacks after her daughter had been diagnosed with a rare bone condition. The 41-year-old from West Lothian is now a passionate outdoors enthusiast.

Lorna said: “I didn’t start hillwalking for my mental health but the more I did it, the more it helped. I felt a sense of purpose, a connection to nature and to the friends I was doing it with. Hiking is still my main activity but I love all sorts of adventures now, including camping, cold water swimming and paddle boarding. I just love being outside and I feel like it’s a gift I am giving my daughter too.

“I feel very lucky to have Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park within easy reach. And I believe strongly that when it comes to looking after nature, everybody has a part to play. We get so much from the outdoors.”

Simon Jones, Director of Environment and Visitor Services at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority said: “The National Park provides us with so many benefits and everyone who visits, lives and works here has their own personal connection to this special place. What we’re seeing is that these connections, and particularly the mental health benefits, are being felt even more strongly after a year of restrictions.

“People enjoying and connecting to nature is something to be welcomed and supported and in doing so we can also inspire people to appreciate what the National Park gives us all, and the ways we can each give back.

“That can be as simple as making sure you’re following the appropriate safety advice, particularly around cold water, taking everything away with you after a visit, choosing sustainable transport or showing consideration for other people while you’re here.

“However we each choose to do it, knowing we’re giving back to this special place can have an even greater positive impact on our wellbeing.”

Tips and advice on staying safe in the water can be found here.

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