Health providers and clients everywhere are looking for different solutions to many behavioral health disorders and symptoms. While some potential mental health treatments may be untested or controversial, one approach has long shown significant promise, without high costs or side effects: Mother Nature and the great outdoors.
Many years of scientific research and anecdotal accounts demonstrate that outdoor, “green space” can reduce stress and anxiety, encourage mindfulness, and increase physical activity. These green environments include tiny urban parks, rural environments, or natural forests. Activities can range from peaceful meditation to casual hiking to heart-pounding white-water rafting.
What’s the Latest on Outdoor Activities and Mental Health?
Adventure Explorations, an outdoor adventure guiding company based in Pennsylvania, recently published a white paper on the link between outdoor activity and mental health. You can download the report here.
Although people can benefit from exercise and physical movement anywhere, the white paper notes that it’s even better if the activity takes place outside, rather than in a gym or indoor class. The authors cite previous research that found connections between outdoor activities and positive mental health outcomes.
Many types of mental health treatment, including pharmaceuticals, can be helpful, but may take weeks or months to show results. Clients also may experience medication side effects. In contrast, spending time in nature and outdoor activities may show faster improvements without serious side effects or high financial costs.
More Research Focuses on Great Outdoors and Behavioral Health
Additional research is needed to shed light on the best kinds of outdoor activities or green spaces, and who can benefit the most. Future studies can help guide behavioral health clinicians to the best type of activities for their clients.
For example, the University of New Hampshire’s Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center is planning a new, randomized study to examine the effectiveness of outdoor behavioral health (OBH). Specifically, the study will look at whether OBH can be used as a prescriptive treatment for adolescents struggling with depression, anxiety, or substance misuse.
OBH, also known as wilderness therapy, may help teens struggling with addiction, or emotional, behavioral, or relational difficulties. With wilderness therapy, adolescents participate in one or more outdoor experiences, such as hiking, camping, or climbing. This combines the advantages of physical activity with the benefits of green space exposure. OBH may also involve group living, group therapy, and one-on-one counseling.
A team led by Michael Gass, professor of outdoor education and director of UNH’s Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Center, will compare treatment methods and outcomes among at least 100 teens. The study will also consider the role that socioeconomic factors may have in the treatment process.
Whatever treatment method you recommend for your clients, it’s more important than ever to know how well those treatments are working. However, client outcomes can be a hassle to measure, track, and report.
Fortunately, the OutcomeTools system by BestNotes makes it easy for you to use outcome data to track your clients and therapeutic effectiveness and meet or even surpass industry standards. OutcomeTools is available as a standalone tool or included in the BestNotes EHR solution. Contact us today to learn how OutcomeTools can help your behavioral health and addiction treatment practice.