The Benefits of the DofE are endless, but for me one benefit stands out and should be celebrated; mental health and wellbeing.
‘The DofE is about helping you along the path to a productive and prosperous future. As many participants say, it’s life-changing.
One of the most important elements of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme for me is having the opportunity to inspire young people to fall in love with the outdoors and all it has to offer them. We all hear about the physical benefits of being outside, how exercise can help to manage our health. We are all happy to chat to each other about going for a run, going hiking, canoeing etc. and how great it makes us feel physically but what I want to do is get our young people talking about how fantastic it is for their mental health and well-being too. This conversation should be as normal as chatting about last night’s mountain biking around the forest. But sadly this isn't the case. Or is it?
I am an Explorer Scout Leader and during Mental Health Awareness Week my colleague and I sat down with our Explorer's who are all in the midst of either their Bronze or Silver DofE and we discussed mental health. I opened up about my struggles and experiences with my own mental health and how I have used the outdoors to help manage it. The conversation was open, frank and the responses were positive. I found that suddenly people were opening up about their own experiences and talking about it. It was like a light had been switched on. These kids were discussing mental health in a mature and sensitive way.
It is scientifically proven that 15 minutes, yes just 15 minutes can help manage and maintain your mental well-being. So as participants of the DofE Scheme we are actively engaging in not only physical activity but wellness too. How amazing is that? A scheme that develops such a broad range of skills can also instil in us all a practice whereby we look after ourselves completely.
If you think about it though the DofE has been actively encouraging talking without even knowing it. All Expeditions involve a journey; a journey with no mobile phones so what do we do? We talk. We walk and talk, we paddle and talk, we cycle and talk.....it all involves talking. Over the days we get to know our fellow participants better than we ever thought. We are all in situations which are unique to us and we share emotions, feelings, joy, laughter and tears together. Ummmmm....that sounds like 'well-being' to me. What do you think?
So, the next step is for us leaders, and you participants is to start to recognise this skill. To make it part of your DofE experience. Include mental well-being and health discussions in your planning, your activities and your expeditions. That way we are breaking down walls, removing stigmas and encouraging each other to reach out when we need it. So that when we are feeling low we know there are people we can talk to who will just listen. After all, that's all we want is someone to listen because having mental health issues can be lonely sometimes. However, what I have learnt is that having anxiety and depression doesn't make me a failure it gives me a strength. It gives me power, and that power is being able to get people talking about it. So go on, get your Blacks kit sorted, get your route sorted, have fun and talk.
If you need more information about mental health or help then contact: www.youngminds.org.uk