WITH regular reports of doctors recommending gardening to help support people experiencing mental health problems and health-sapping conditions such as chronic loneliness, it’s clear that more people are becoming aware of the personal benefits of outdoor activity.

Even just being outside in natural light can be helpful to those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition common in countries with long winters and skies often thick with cloud.

Studies have indicated an association between putting plants in classrooms and workplaces, higher rates of attendance and lower incidence of absence due to illness, and it appears that even simply looking at green plants and trees can lift a person’s mood.

Gardening can offer the gentle exercise helpful to recovering health and wellbeing, as well as the opportunity to meet new friends.

The simple act of nurturing a plant or even growing your own food can reconnect a person with a sense of purpose and achievement.

Similarly, being around plants and animals can be calming and therapeutic, as well as reminding us to put things in perspective when we’re feeling down or overwhelmed.

To mark Mental Health Awareness week, groups around Scotland are hosting free wellbeing walks to help us reconnect with nature, ourselves and each other.

Though these particular events are part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, many groups run other, similar events throughout the year.

Ness Islands
Bught Road, Inverness

Situated on the River Ness, opposite Bught Park, the Ness Islands are home to bats, otters and the odd deer.

Meet at 8pm on May 12 behind the skate park at Bught Road for a 90-minute, all-ages tour of the islands including hot chocolate and stories around a campfire fire. Listen for the likes of the sparrow, swift and starlings and the once-common nightingale in the evening’s dawn chorus.

Researchers at the University of Surrey recently found that, of all the natural sounds, bird song was most often cited as helping people recover from stress.

STAR Project
Wallace Street, Paisley

Artist in residence Jim Buchanan explores the mental health benefits of labyrinths, and how they can encourage gentle exercise and the fostering of a sense of contemplation, even meditation. For more information on this free workshop from 10.30am to 12.30pm on May 15, call 0141 889 5850.

New Craigs Hospital
Dunain Road, Inverness

Meet for a 1.30pm start for this gently-paced two-hour free nature walk from New Craigs to Dunain Community Woodland on May 16.

Hot drinks around a campfire is included, as are the talents and insight of Lar MacGregor, an artist who will demonstrate how to weave your mental health stories into handmade ropes and rescue knots.

For more info, call 07801 686 046.

Fountain Gardens
Love Street, Paisley

Renfrewshire Anti-Stigma Alliance (RASA) host a flat, one-mile walk in Paisely’s oldest public gardens from 12.30pm to 1.30pm on May 15.

Suitable for all ages and abilities and open to everyone, the idea is to have a chat about mental health and wellbeing with other walkers as you enjoy the stroll. Register at rasawalkamile.eventbrite.co.uk

Old Curling Rink and Mill Pond
Backies, Golspie

Meet at the old curling rink/mill pond at Backies near Golspie for a 1.30pm start on this free, leisurely wellbeing nature walk suitable for all age on May 23.

Email trish.matthews@highlifehighland.com for info.