Magnifying Mental Well-Being in a Natural Setting
In 2023, the World Mental Health Day was celebrated under the theme “Mental health is a universal human right”. In this context, WHO claimed that mental health conditions are impacting the daily lives of 12.5% of the population around the world, including effects on their physical health state, their well-being, how they interact with other people, and their lifestyles. The prevalent mental disorders that crucially affect people's lives, are anxiety and depressive disorders that could potentially lead to suicide attempts. Out of 100 deaths, one is caused by committed suicide.
To combat depression, different types of therapies have been introduced in recent decades, including pharmacotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, awake therapy, physical therapy, and others. In favor of successfully tackling depression, a complement, nature-based therapy emerges as contemporary and promising approach. Nature-based therapy, which is also known as ecotherapy, green therapy, or forest therapy, focuses on connecting mental illness patients with the outdoors in order to improve their mental conditions through increasing mindfulness, self-esteem and self-acceptance. Different approaches either highlight individual work or group-based therapies.
Many studies addressed the vital role of natural settings in advancing mental well-being. They found that being outdoors and exposed to natural light and refreshing air, potentially strengthens one’s health and well-being physically and emotionally. To narrate, the greenery-open-air space effectively activates one’s senses and lowers mental disorder levels by developing mindfulness, self-regulation, self-esteem, self-love, and self-acceptance. Additionally, nature has a great impact on the perception of happiness and life satisfaction. To successfully conduct nature-based therapy, it is essential to build a connectedness to nature. In Japan, a study found that the level of one’s connectedness with nature depends on the sense of attachment to that natural space. To build a sense of attachment to a place, first and foremost, requires one to seek a natural place where feelings of safety and destress are present.
For instance, a research conducted by Joschko et al. included 19 samples of patients who were living with mental disorders, and received major support from therapists in setting up safe green spaces, without pressures but instead feelings of acceptance, being seen, heard, and naturally connected. The study results indicate that receiving nature-based therapy remarkably improved mental well-being, significantly decreased depressive disorder, and positively impacted the connectedness between individuals and nature. Above all, the study also showed that this therapy experience gave the opportunity to patients to be their inner self, to show their authenticity, and to strengthen the connection within themselves through activities that they intrinsically chose to do in outdoor space.
Other studies on wilderness solo experiences focused on solo-nature-based approaches where one could experience silent moments and spend time solitarily in the wilderness. This unique nature-based intervention (NBI) has been used by psychotherapists, coaches, educators, and outdoor trainers due to its notable effect on psychological development, a holistic view of oneself, life’s purpose discovery, and consciousness awakening. The most common form of solo experience in the wilderness was used for the very first time in the 19th century, known as Vision Quest, where each person, individually without a time limit, took a wilderness journey to deeply explore the core inner self, strengths, weaknesses, values, the purpose of life, and other guiding principles. By completing this journey, one could earn incalculable inspiration guidance, both spiritually and intellectually, to begin the next stage of life.
In recent years, given the conditions of our fast-paced world, this method is again popularly used for outdoor education with similar purposes as in ancient times, where one got a space for emotional release, self-reflection, nature connectedness, which could be potentially used in the healing process and emotional renewal. Being in the wilderness is a tremendous opportunity for people to be aware of their state of mind, and to solve their personal issues which could lead to changes in beliefs, perspectives, values, emotions, etc.
The greater impact of the outdoors is not only the uplift of mental health conditions and personal development but also creating inspiring spaces. For instance, many outdoor programs offer chances for the participant to eat a healthy diet by cooking their own food, and completing physical outdoor activities. Eventually, this could result in cutting unhealthy eating habits and detoxication, the removal of toxic substances from our bodies. Moreover, being in a good state of physical wellness can have an enormous positive impact on mental well-being. Furthermore, a study on nature-based walking interventions proved that natural spacing, physical well-being, and mental condition improvement are interlinked. This very budgeted-nature-based activity provides an impressive outcome to human well-being. Compared to urban walking, surrounded by city building complexes and noise, the fresh-open-air walk by the view of forest trees, lakes, beaches, or mountains, affirmatively influences mood state and dramatically minimizes anxiety, stress, and rumination.
In summary, outdoor spaces such as green forestry fields have a major impact on human well-being and their optimism. Through various activities conducted in green spaces, including gardening, walking, hiking, camping, or even by just quietly sitting and being surrounded by the open-fresh air and greenery view, one could experience influential positive changes emotionally, physically, and spiritually within oneself and nature. Stronger bonds and a deeper connection to self and nature are built by physically interacting with nature, or, in other words, the foundation of mindfulness, self-discovery, self-consciousness, self-compassion, life satisfaction, mentality, and physical strength.