Melanie Curtis, a physician’s assistant at Clarity Health Wellness, sees patients who are struggling with their mental health. Daily, Curtis finds herself recommending a treatment that can’t be found in a pharmacy: going outside.
“Spending time outside increases your exposure to the sun, which allows you to receive more Vitamin D,” Curtis said. “Vitamin D helps improve mood, and we actually often use Vitamin D supplements to treat depression.”
Curtis, like many other mental health professionals, understands the scientific and emotional implications of spending time in nature on mental health. In a 2015 study, scientists found that a 90-min walk in a natural setting significantly decreased neural activity associated with the development of mental illness. According to the study, time spent outdoors may be critical to mental well-being.
“I like to recommend going on walks or a bike ride,” Curtis said. “I’ll even have patients that will go outside just to garden or go sit at Midnight Oil.”
Junior nursing major Meredith Williamson views nature as a refuge from stress and anxiety. Last November, Williamson’s husband Hunter passed away unexpectedly. In his life, Hunter Williamson passionately sought out time for wilderness adventure, so last Saturday, Williamson hiked on the wooded trails of Camp Takodah for the first time since his passing.
“The woods were such a huge place in Hunter’s life,” Williamson said. “He spent as much time as he could there. It was very cool to kind of be able to share that again.”
In this unforeseen season in her life, Williamson finds solace in the outdoors. Whenever she needs reprieve from the stress of nursing school or uncertainty about the future, she finds comfort by taking walks and riding her family’s horses on country roads.
“It very much puts me at peace, and it always has,” Williamson said.
Searcy offers many different avenues for spending time in nature, including four parks, a bike trail, a fishing pier, a frisbee golf course and a recently added dog park. The Gin Creek recreation area serves as a place of quiet retreat for students and Searcians alike. In warmer months, many students at Harding choose to study in the shade of the front lawn and at picnic tables stationed around campus.
There are even classes that offer opportunities for students wishing to spend more time in the outdoors.
Josiah Pleasant, an economic development strategist, advocates for the integration of mental wellness with time spent in nature. Though Pleasant’s educational background is in business, he also serves as the instructor of Harding’s kayaking course and has been involved in many outdoor adventure experiences. According to Pleasant, it is important to incorporate time in nature into day-to-day life. Spending time in nature, Pleasant said, helps one to find balance with mind, body and soul.
“I think for a while mental health, holistic well-being, was viewed as a want, not a need,” Pleasant said. “I am of the view that it’s a need.”