Positive futures: outdoor youth work and mental health in young people

Positive futures: outdoor youth work and mental health in young people

10 February 2023

Blog by Andrew Aldous, Centre Manager, Fordell Firs, Scout Adventure Centres 

If there has been something positive to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be the greater acceptance and understanding of mental health, and specifically how life can impact and affect the mental health of young people.

It has long been agreed that getting outside, being in open spaces and getting fresh air have a positive impact on how you are feeling. Getting in and around trees and woodlands is better still. Being around trees, or even just being able to see them, can reduce your blood pressure by 10 percent. GPs in the UK are now prescribing time outdoors as a remedy to improve mental health and in Japan ‘Forest Bathing’ has become a popular wellness activity.

A big issue we have seen at our Scout Adventure Centres, coming out of the covid pandemic, has been a lack of confidence and a loss of communication skills in young people. We have noticed an increased anxiety in young people too, especially those who went through periods of transition during the pandemic, including Primary 7 pupils moving to secondary school and older pupils looking towards next steps beyond school.

It can be difficult to engage young people in discussions around their mental health. Formal settings and ‘meetings’ can make this harder still. This is where the outdoors can help to break down barriers and start up conversations.

Scout Adventure Centres provide access to a supportive outdoor environment where young people are encouraged to take part in fun activities. Our instructors see first-hand that young people are more likely to talk freely when they’re occupied with a task, rather than sitting in a formal environment.

Activities like walking, camping and bushcraft sessions all help break down these barriers to open communication. And these activities offer additional benefits, seeing young people learn new skills. Taking on and completing new challenges like creating a shelter boosts confidence, develops resilience, and gives them a sense of achievement.

Outdoor-based group activities are extremely beneficial too. It creates a relaxed environment in which people can talk, helping develop rapport with peers and leaders and instilling confidence. Rock climbing, abseiling and team building sessions, all outdoors, have helped many young people overcome issues around poor communication and supported the development of stronger social skills. We see the young people who take part in these activities develop a sense of inclusion, which has also helped reduce anxiety.

Being outdoors brings young people closer to nature. It helps them understand the natural world around them and appreciate it, so they can take meaningful steps to protect it. However, a fair proportion of young people are experiencing anxiety due to their concerns about the environment. We feel it is important to involve them in practical outdoor conservation work, which shows the steps they can take and reduces anxiety by showing that we can work towards a better future. Young people have been involved in our tree planting initiative at Fordell Firs, helping us plant 800 trees since 2020. This has not only had the benefits of getting them outdoors, to connect with their local natural environment, but has also helped them develop green skills which help them shape more positive perceptions about the future of our environment and their role in supporting it.

The outdoors is a key safe space for young people to challenge themselves, improve relationships with their peers and tackle their mental health concerns. That’s why supporting outdoor centres and ensuring all young people have access to the natural environment has never been more important. Find out more about visiting our centres.

Scouts Scotland is a registered charity and your support helps us offer quality outdoor experiences to young people.


Did you know Scouts Scotland were involved in helping SAMH develop a resource to help youth workers support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people? You can find the resource here:

Elearning for Youth Workers | SAMH

We are proud to partner with SAMH on the theme of mental health, a subject our young members have asked us to focus on as part of Scouts’ A Million Hands community impact work.