Pandemic got you down? Boost mental health with time outdoors

By Trista Bowser at Kent State University
Broadcast version by Mary Schuermann reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.


When she sees clients who are struggling with depression, Vicki Montesano often tells them to walk outside for 10 minutes each day.

“That connection to a natural environment can enhance wellbeing,” said Montesano, the bureau chief of mental health treatment with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Office of Community Treatment Services. “If you look at different experiments, people who have been exposed to natural environments improved working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To encourage more people to benefit from spending time in nature, the Ohio Departments of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the Mental Health and Addictions Services (OhioMHAS) have created the Thrive Outside campaign.

How pressing is the mental health issue?

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 4 in 10 adults claimed they had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic. From January to June 2019, only 1 in 10 reported those symptoms.

“There were studies that had shown a decline in people’s mental health because of more isolation, of course,” said Staci Tessmer, the president-elect of the Ohio Counseling Association.

Just stepping outside for a few minutes allows us to soak up some Vitamin D from the sun which is known to repel symptoms of depression and improve our mood.

“There has been a lot of research on nature therapy and [it] doesn’t necessarily have to be therapy-associated, but just being outside in general can boost our physical and mental health,” said Tessmer, who has been a licensed professional clinical counselor supervisor for more than nine years.

What can you do to help mental health?

Going on walks can help mental health tremendously, Tessmer said. When you do spend any time outside, make sure to be present and not focus on anything that can cause stress or distract from the peacefulness of what is going on around in the moment, she explained.

“Being outside is one thing, but being outside mindfully is really the key,” Tessmer said.

Because of COVID-19, many have been utilizing the parks that Ohio offers. The number of visitors that go to these parks have been rising in recent years. Amy Bowman-Moore, president of the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, has noticed this firsthand.

“In the last two years, the parks have seen their visitation grow and grow,” Bowman-Moore said. “And I know there’s statistics out there that let people know how being out in nature affects in a positive way, your physical and your mental state …, if you haven’t tried it, try it.”

For more information and help, consider contacting one of the following for free, 24/7 help:

Ohio CareLine – 1.800.720.9616 to confidentially connect with trained counselors for support and Ohio Crisis Text Line – Text the keyword 4HOPE to 741 741 to connect with a trained counselor. Any additional help and/or details, please go to https://mha.ohio.gov/get-help/get-help-now.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

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