Nature Activities Help Improve Veterans’ Mental Health

There are many different forms of therapy available to military veterans suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some are more traditional, like psychological counseling, alcohol rehab or antidepressants. Others are more complementary and alternative practices such as acupuncture or yoga. There is definitely a need for more help for our nation’s vets. PTSD affects almost 13% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and out of the 830,000 vets treated at Veterans’ Administration hospitals around the country in the last 10 years, 29% have experienced PTSD. To help these service men and women, the Sierra Club is lending a hand.

The Sierra Club is providing outdoor recreation activities such as fly fishing, kayaking, and backpacking—activities that provide many of the positive experiences that came with military service. These activities stay away from psychological counseling or therapy. It’s just a chance to play outdoors.

“They are outside, in a group, sharing similar mental models, and in a sense, on a mission,” Jason Duvall, a research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, said in a statement.

Duvall feels that veterans can identify with the nature activities because they are physical; they involve reaching for a goal and provide companionship.

A study was done to determine if the program was working. 98 vets were surveyed one week before and one week after participating in the activities. They then took part in multi-day trips involving biking, hiking, fishing, etc. Each group size was 6-12 people. Prior to the event 50% reported experiencing daily mental or physical health problems. After the trip participants reported:

  • More than 10% improvement psychologically;
  • 9% improvement in social functioning;
  • 8% improvement in their outlook on life.

One month after the trips, some participants reported better overall mental health.

“This trip helped me to reevaluate what’s important in life,” said Tim, 52, a Navy veteran. “It was nice to live a week without being ‘plugged in’ and take in the great outdoors.”

Dan, a 39-year-old Army veteran shared a similar sentiment, saying, “It helped me to remember who I was and enjoy something I haven’t in a long time.”

Integrating this type of therapy into traditional drug rehab can make a difference in creating a lasting recovery.