Outdoor Wellness: Mental Health
Time spent outdoors supports and improves mental health at all ages, increasing happiness, reducing stress, decreasing sleep deprivation, and reducing symptoms of ADHD, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. However, Americans spend less than 8% of their time outdoors and women, youth, and lower-income people have the least time outdoors. Climate change is also worsening mental health through extreme heat, economic instability, natural disasters, ecological grief, and climate anxiety. Restoring access to the outdoors can reduce the mental health impacts of climate change, promote hope for the future, and reduce fear and stress about climate change.
Everyday Wellness Policy Options
- Greenspace Equity Program: 1 in 3 Americans lacks access to nearby outdoor spaces, and lack of green space worsens extreme heat. Maryland S.B.923/H.B.503 established a program to increase equitable access to quality green spaces in overburdened & underserved areas.
- Gardening in Housing: Gardening is one of the most effective outdoor interventions for mental health. Illinois H.B.3892 allows the housing development authority to create incentives for the affordable housing projects that incorporate urban and suburban gardening programs.
- Healthy Childhood Task Force: Childhood time outdoors is the single greatest predictor of lifelong time outdoors. Louisiana (S.R.84) established a task force to promote healthy childhoods, especially through time outdoors in and out of school.
- Outdoors Rx / Outdoor-Based Therapy Programs: Washington’s successful Parks Rx pilot program (S.B.5292) and the new Illinois Outdoor Rx program (H.B.1526) provide guidance and funding to promote health through outdoor access.
State Parks Wellness Policy Options
- Prescribe A Park: Vermont and South Dakota empower healthcare providers to promote time outdoors by prescribing free park passes.
- State Land As a Healthcare Resource: New York Outdoor Rx Act (A.8094A) requires a review of veterans’ abilities to access state parks, lands, and facilities, especially for outdoor therapies.
- Help State Parks Prevent Suicide: State parks may be higher risk areas for suicide due to their remoteness, access, opportunity, and for some, lack of familiarity. States can support existing parks efforts to offer safe, welcoming facilities by identifying higher-risk areas and installing reasonable prevention solutions like signage, barriers, art, and/or lighting.