Preschool children are now the fastest growing market for antidepressant medications in the U.S. I think it’s fair to say that we, as a culture, have a problem!
Mood disorders are invisible illnesses. Children don’t wear anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder like they do a cut, scrape, or bruise. But childhood mood maladies nonetheless signal a deep underlying discontent within the mind of a child.
Connecting to nature can help temper the eruption of underlying restlessness and mental suffering. Here are 5 mood imbalances in kids that nature can help heal:
Children are experiencing depression at earlier and earlier ages. As mentioned above, even 3 and 4 year-olds are being medicated for symptoms of depression! Time spent outdoors can help buffer children’s feelings of “being down”. Adequate exposure to sunlight alone can bolster vitamin D levels in kids, an antioxidant effect that has been shown to improve mood and bring more happiness.
Uncontrolled fear and nervousness can prevent children from living life fully and completely. With modern kids struggling to keep up with the demands of competitive after school activities and over-structured schedules it’s no surprise that youth anxiety is on the rise. Research on time spent in natural settings however reveals that children who spend time in nature are able to forget their troubles, clear their minds, and feel more relaxed than their urban counterparts. A little bit of greenery seems to go a long way in bringing more ease to kids.
Even in our highly interconnected world, more children feel lonely than ever before. Despite youth being inundated with social media, children remain isolated from real peer, parental, and community interactions. This feeling of loneliness results in psychological distress, feelings of detachment, and a lack of empathy for others. Stepping into the woods or swimming in a pond reminds children of how connected they are to their local environment and allows them the opportunity to feel accepted just as they are.
Chronic childhood aggression is a tell-tale sign of mental and emotional disharmony. There is an often a reason why children feel the need to “lash out” or “act out”. This unresolved frustration and irritability can be defused with time spent outside. That’s why children who attend forest schools tend to have a greater sense of energy and happiness, and less anger at the end of the day. Giving children ample time to run, romp, and play can move aggression aside to make way for calm and peace of mind.
When children lose hope, they lose everything. A feeling of despair is marked by an overall lack of emotional well-being. As humans we feel hopeful when we are connected to our purpose, to spirit, to a deep sense of meaning and self-worth. The great outdoors can replenish and inspire young minds. Children can leave a forest wilderness camp or nature adventure trip with a renewed sense of hope in themselves and the world. And if hope is the infrastructure for positive and lasting change, then we certainly need more kids getting outdoors!
Chawla, L. (2015). Benefits of nature contact for children. CPL bibliography, 30(4), 433-452.
Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books.
Shanahan, D. F., Bush, R., Gaston, K. J., Lin, B. B., Dean, J., Barber, E., & Fuller, R. A. (2016). Health benefits from nature experiences depend on dose. Scientific Reports, 6.
Strife, S., & Downey, L. (2009). Childhood development and access to nature: A new direction for environmental inequality research. Organization & environment, 22(1), 99-122.
Zito, J. M., Safer, D. J., Gardner, J. F., Soeken, K., Boles, M., & Lynch, F. (2002). Rising prevalence of antidepressants among US youths. Pediatrics, 109(5), 721-727.
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