By: Tina Rhoden-Lewellyn, Executive Director, Ben’s Ranch Foundation
You turn on TV news each day and see the evidence of our nation’s declining mental health through stories of school shootings, assaults, and addiction. While professional help is a must for those struggling, there is a free complement to therapy and medications – spending time outside. The outdoors and mental health have a very powerful connection – one we need to encourage our young people to explore.
There is a mental health crisis happening right now among all Americans, but especially teens, and it has continued to escalate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before 2020, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), up to 1 in 5 children ages three to 17 in the United States had a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.
Last December, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory that highlighted the mental health crisis in teens, as well as ways to address it. Due to the disruptions, losses, and changes that came with the pandemic, young people’s health was negatively impacted. In 2020, 6,600 adolescents between the ages of 10-24 died by suicide. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
Something must be done.
Research shows that the outdoors can significantly help when battling mental health challenges. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that participants who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results show that spending time outside is vital for everyone’s mental health.
Adults and adolescents in the United States spend over 90 percent of their time indoors, and 82 percent of Americans live in cities and urban areas. Too much screen time, breathing in polluted air in big cities, not enough time outdoors, and more can contribute to depression and anxiety.
There are nearly 300 studies that show a strong connection between exposure to green spaces and mental health benefits in children. With school, after-school activities, and homework – along with parents’ busy schedules – it can be hard to make time to go outside and enjoy nature. Here are a few easy ways to incorporate nature into your everyday life:
- Bring nature inside by setting plants around and allowing natural light to shine through the windows.
- Enjoy meals outside on the back patio or front porch.
- Grow flowers and vegetables in a garden or in pots.
- Head to a local park on weekends.
At Ben’s Ranch Foundation, we’re providing paid, part-time internships on farms, stables and ranches for teens with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in Central Indiana. These internships expose the kids to nature and animals, which improves their mental health significantly. You can join the battle by simply encouraging a teen to get outside today and experience the healing power of nature.
Tina Rhoden-Lewellyn was recently named the first, full-time Executive Director for Ben’s Ranch Foundation. The Indiana nonprofit organization operates and supports programs designed to connect teens experiencing mental health challenges to the healing power of internships on farms, stables and equine therapy facilities. Find out more at www.bensranch.org.