Bats to be used as therapy for mental health patients

Bats are to be used as an unlikely new therapy for people suffering mental health problems.

A Pipistrelle bat which is one species being monitored in the project. Picture: PA

Health workers at NHS Forth Valley received training from the Bat Conservation Trust to monitor Pipistrelles and other bats.The scheme was funded by NHS Scotland as part of a wider promotion to health workers of the John Muir Award, which encourages people of all backgrounds to connect with and enjoy wild places.

Health workers with bat monitoring skills will be able to deliver sessions to mental health patients as part of the Award.

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Elaine Cochrane, Health Promotion Officer with NHS Forth Valley, who attended the training, said: "We are trying to increase uptake of the John Muir Award within the Forth Valley area. To make this as accessible as possible we need local experts to engage with the groups.

"Several of the groups using the John Muir Award were interested in covering bats as part of their Award. However the Bat Conservation Trust cannot afford to work with each group. It therefore seemed sensible to support this training course for health workers who are running the Award, thereby increasing capacity throughout the community to deliver meaningful sessions on bats."

Health workers were trained on the banks of the River Allan at Dunblane, Perthshire.

Anne Youngman of the Bat Conservation Trust believes the initiative could help mental health patients along the road to recovery while making a contribution to scientific understanding.

She said: "Bats are a new topic to most people and a little bit mysterious -- learning something new is a great confidence boost. Doing bat surveys in towns or countryside gets people out of doors connecting with nature. People feel good about contributing to science too.

"On a sensory level, being out at sunset or before dawn opens up a whole new world of colour, of sights and sounds and smells. It helps us feel alive and connected to our natural environment."

The John Muir Trust highlights how outdoor activities can support mental health patients by building confidence through

meeting new people, learning new skills and working with others one conservations tasks, while also looking out for each other and being active.

Chris McGeown, John Muir Award Scotland Inclusion Manager, added: "It is great to see the many varied and creative ways John Muir Award Providers are connecting individuals and groups to nature, which is known to improve health and well-being."