Trail Therapy is an innovative intervention programme that seeks to use mountain biking in combination with more traditional therapy techniques to support those with a diagnosed mental health illness.
Trail Therapy is ambitious! We know from an ever-expanding body of research that the benefits of being outdoors in nature in combination with an activity that requires concentration can have profound physical and mental health benefits. We have a growing appreciation too that physical and mental ill health are often intrinsically linked; physical health problems significantly increase the risk of developing mental health problems, and vice versa.
Nearly one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, most often depression or anxiety. Our bodies and minds are simply not separate so approaching mental ill health from a whole body perspective makes increasing sense and it is this, along with focus and the positive (and managed) risk associated with mountain biking that makes this programme so exciting.
As participants go through the programme, we hope to facilitate folk as they grow in confidence, improve their social interactions in a supportive environment, establish skills of self-regulation and accelerate their road to well-being.
We want our participants to become more comfortable in open and minimal support environments, with the ultimate aim that cycling becomes part of their active lifestyle.
For many this will form part of their resilience toolkit to enable them to be discharged from NHS care. The result is a better quality of life, an additional practical tool in their toolkit for managing their own mental health and increased physical health as well as mental health.
The film, previously shown in film festivals and then pay per view to raise funds for the Scottish MTB Health Fund, is now available on general release.
In November 2021, we launched the Scottish MTB Health Fund to help us run more MTB & Mental Health (Trail Therapy) Programmes, get more women and girls riding, deliver urban MTB initiatives, support more MTB disability hubs and increase the diversity of riders on the trails.
Did you know it costs £75,000 to run the Trail Therapy programme for a year?
We hope that you may consider making a small donation to the Scottish MTB Health Fund after you have watched the film.
You may think that donating a small amount will not scratch the surface. However, if the MTB community embraces the Scottish MTB Health Fund we will use our expertise in match funding to unlock further investment and get more people across Scotland supported and on their way to RECOVERY by bike.
We oversee the national strategy for mountain biking in Scotland which identified that mountain biking could work in a more proactive manner with our National Health Service.
We were not seeing a lot of activity in this area and were keen to progress a programme with research and evaluation built into it so we could study exactly how mountain biking could directly support good mental health.
We convened a meeting with partners in the area where we are based, at Glentress in the Scottish Borders. There we met an occupational therapist and mountain biker to progress an idea she had to provide a therapeutic approach within a non-clinical environment to promote the use of self-management skills to improve patients' physical and mental health.
Mountain biking was seen as the ideal activity to meet her client’s needs.
The project’s aim was to share the joys and obtainable challenges of mountain biking with folks who have an existing mental health diagnosis and to assess its effect on people’s overall mental health, both on the trail and in their everyday lives after the ride.
The goal was also to help the individuals involved grow in confidence, improve social interactions, establish skills of self-regulation and accelerate their road to well-being.
We were keen to help this programme to happen by delivering the weekly sessions. We wanted to understand if mountain biking aided people’s recovery from a period of mental ill health, how we as leaders could learn from the experience, and, using our role within mountain biking in Scotland, how we could take these learnings and spread them across the country.
Short film about the initial pilot by Dominic Simmons
We know that with an increasingly stretched National Health Service, third sector support will be essential going forward.
The NHS need a suite of programmes that it can tap into, programmes that have been evaluated and their efficacy demonstrated.
Trail Therapy is one such programme where a bespoke combination of mountain biking activity, led by professional mountain bike leaders and coaches supported by Occupational Therapists, Mental Health Nurses, Councillors and Green Health Partnerships is demonstrating effectiveness.
18 months in from our first allocation of funding, we are super pleased that we have secured funding to keep Trail Therapy going until March 2023.
We are continuing to source further funding to enable us to not only continue the programme into the next financial year, but to expand our reach.
We know the demand is out there, across all ages and demographics and we continue to receive requests from across the world; folk watching us and looking for help and advice on how to set up Trail Therapy in their region.
So where are we at just now?
- We have delivered Trail Therapy, using our unique FLOW technique across Dundee, Perth and Kinross and Lanarkshire supporting over 50 folk and delivering well over 800 sessions!
- We have trained 8 volunteers (and are just recruiting a few more) alongside 6 mental health professionals to be mountain bike leaders, coaches and first aiders (physical and mental health) and we are still expanding.
- We have partnered with Endura's Life Cycle Trust, HaVen, Feeling Strong, Comrie Croft, Dundee Cycle Hub, Green Health Partnerships, Alpine Bikes and the NHS to name but a few and we will continue to work with others to extend what we can do.
Funding is essential to enable the continuation of this work so we are greatly appreciative to NatureScot, Trek, Scottish Cycling, Dundee Volunteer and Voluntary Action and Perth and Kinross Voluntary Action Service - we couldn't have done it without you!
"As a representative of NHS, I cannot overstate the positive effect this project has had on all individuals (patients and staff).....We would not have reached this stage without the support of DMBinS, for which we are very grateful".
We want this programme to be rolled out across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
It links into national (Scottish) agendas such as NatureScot’s Our Natural Health Service initiative, responding directly to the mental health crisis we are facing and lays the foundations for a structured, rigorously evaluated, nature-based solution to support our health service going forward.
It is vital that any future projects are subject to a robust evaluation because these are essential in demonstrating how structured interventions such as this deliver real health outcomes.
Only with robust evaluation can we demonstrate success not only for funders but equally importantly, for those within healthcare settings looking to alternative ways to manage the increasing mental health care pressures.
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