Maintain Good Mental Health by Being in Nature
By Paul Rothbart
After centuries of misunderstanding, stigmas, and just plain ignorance, mental health is finally being recognized as being every bit as important as physical health. Just as the body must be nourished and maintained, so too must the mind. There is now a greater understanding of the role of chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins in avoiding depression and thus staying mentally healthy. Therapy and medication are excellent for treatments, but there are many enjoyable activities that can help maintain mental health daily. Science is discovering that being out in nature can be very effective in this regard.
The Student Conservation Association (SCA), an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving parks, landmarks, and other green spaces, has collected many accounts of individuals who experienced dramatic improvements to their mental health by being outdoors. A current park ranger who interned with SCA said that spending time in nature saved her. It helped her get through a dark, depressive period she experienced after finishing college and beginning her job hunt. A veteran who served three tours in Iraq founded a mountaineering team and found that the sense of community and being active in natural settings to be therapeutic. His team is made of veterans suffering from PTSD. The program's participants have shown increased self-confidence as well as lower rates of anxiety, depression, and alcoholism.
These anecdotes do not have to stand alone. Science has compiled data to support them. A study conducted in 2018-19 by the University of Washington College of the Environment found that group expeditions in a natural setting did indeed help veterans with PTSD deal with their mental illness. Along with more traditional treatments, the veterans were able to make solid progress. Dr. Nooshin Razani, a pediatric psychologist, has prescribed time spent outdoors for her patients and their families and discovered great results. Dr. Razani says, "Access to nature is a health equity issue. This is about the opportunity to heal and connect with ourselves and others."
Where to Access Nature
You don't have to trek the jungles of Borneo or the African savanna. A state park, a hiking trail, or even a municipal park with grass and trees will provide plenty of opportunity to commune with nature. Zoos and botanical gardens are also very good places for this type of therapy. Even one's backyard can bring one close to nature. Put up a couple of bird feeders and watch the creatures with (and without) wings flock to your rescue.
Good mental health is every bit as important as good physical health. There are many ways to fight depression and other issues and communing with nature is proving to be quite an effective form of therapy.
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