Nature and Its Mental Health Benefits
When it comes to effective mental-health treatment, the natural world probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, when seeking psychiatric care for mild-to-severe mental illness, nature is probably around the 1000th thing that comes to mind (somewhere between joining the Church of Scientology and volunterring with the peace corps.). And why wouldn't it be? After all, we live in a pill-popping nation that puts its faith in prescription pads to solve all of its people's ailments - especially when it concerns issues that pertain to mental health.
Ironically enough, however - and contradictory to whatever any $150.00 an hour psychiatrist claims- the most effective psychiatric tool we humans have at our disposal is free, globally available, and does not require a sloppily-written autograph from your personal healthcare physician. I'm talking, of course, about nature exposure.
Nature: The Cheapest, Most Effective and Least Utilized Therapy
The therapeutic value of nature has been largely forgotten about in our society. Be that as it may, the psychological benefits of nature are quite evident. Just think of it this way, 'nature exposure' (hiking, walking, biking, swimming, etc.) involves exercise, it comes with beautiful scenery, plenty of vitamin D, and it's free. So, in therapeutic terms, natural exposure comes with a plethora mental, emotional, and cognitive benefits - like a therapist, minus the inflated fees of traditional one-on-one therapy- Why don't we just live outside again?
Mardie Townsend is a Ph.D. and honorary professor at School of Health and Social Development at the Deakin University of Austria. Needless to say, the doctor and her mouthful of psychiatric credentials know a thing or two about therapeutic care, as well as where to find it.
Dr. Townsend Says, “There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impact on mental health."
The therapeutic value of nature is so powerful, in fact, Dr. Townsend says "simply gazing out a window or even looking at photos of natural scenery is proven to reduce stress." With its universal accessibility, and psychiatric value backed up by scientifically proven research, it's puzzling to explain why we as a culture haven't turned to nature when faced with psychological maladies such as stress and depression.
So Why Do We Neglect to Utilize The Great Outdoors as a Therapeutic Tool?
Unfortunately, nature is highly underutilized and underprescribed in our society's trending, pop psychology-driven culture. Our amnesia towards nature as a therapeutic tool is simply a symptom of the day and age we live in. Simply put, as technology becomes more advanced our time spent outside decreases. We have essentially swapped out our connection with nature for a connection with wifi, and our mental health is paying dearly because of it.
As we plug in, sync up and over tweet our lives away, we become dependent upon technology to entertain us and soothe our stress. What's worse, our lack of emphasis on mental wellness, combined with our increasing addiction to electronics, acts as a mental health-crippling perfect storm. This is because spending too much time indoors on the computer, in front of a tv and or on a bright cell phone screen late at night, are all activities that have been scientifically proven to cause depression. To put it another way, we have replaced natural therapy with something that cripples our mental wellness. It's kind of like replacing your trash can with a mountainous landfill whilst spring cleaning your kitchen.
Natural Exposure: Effective Treatment for Troubled Teens
With all of the beneficial therapeutic aspects that nature has to offer, it almost goes without saying that being emersed in nature would be impactful for a troubled teenage boy or girl's therapeutic recovery process.
2017's teenagers are the most nature-starved generation we have ever seen (even less time than my generation Y, who at least got their vitamin D playing ultimate frisbee). Instead of engaging in healthy outdoor activities, American teens' collective attention is spent playing retro-looking video games, surfing unlimited/post-dial-up internet, and watching countless hours of pre-recorded or streamed tv shows.
It is no coincidence that today's sun-fearing teens and tweens are also among the most depressed generation to date (as much as 20%).
The truth of the matter is today's 13-18 demographic's proclivity for depression is a reflection of their time spent inside. With millions of depressed teens wasting their young lives, locked away from the world outside world, exposure to the great outdoors may be their most effective therapeutic solution.
Dr. MardieTownsend agrees, "Nature is associated with reduced levels of stress — which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience, increased engagement with learning for children and adolescents otherwise disengaged from the education system, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially."
Wilderness Therapy: The Natural Choice for Professional Help
With all of the benefits that the wilderness has to offer to our mental health, it's almost common sense to think that a wilderness therapy program would be the most practical treatment option for troubled teens. When removed from all of the distractions, negative influences and behavioral triggers that plagued their home life, troubled teens in wilderness therapy are relocated to an environment that provides them with optimal therapeutic exposure.
“There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health. It is associated with reduced levels of stress."
If you are looking for professional help for a troubled teen, don't let this humble author lead you astray. I'm in no place to say which treatment option is best suited to treat your troubled teenager. Rather, I am simply relaying the nature of human biology, exhaustive scientific research, and Dr. Townsend, a Bavarian psychiatrist with more credentials than a combined class of Yale graduates, emphatically state that wilderness therapy is naturally the most efficient troubled teen treatment solution this world has to offer.