Empowering Youth Mental Health: The Healing Power of Nature and Purpose
Welcome back to the eighth week of our EmpowerGen column! As we continue our journey, we shift our focus to a pressing issue affecting youth in both Boulder and Baja: mental health. The rise in suicide rates, school shootings, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgency to address mental health challenges among young individuals. In this article, we will explore the transformative potential of connecting youth to nature and purpose, backed by studies and articles that showcase the healing power of these experiences. Read last week’s EmpowerGen Article about a young changemaker inspired by nature here.
Today’s youth face unprecedented challenges, from academic pressures to social media overload, contributing to a surge in mental health issues.
- According to Mental Health America, 16.39% of youth (age 12-17) reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year1. The state prevalence of youth with MDE ranges from 12.57% in New Jersey to 21.13% in Oregon1.
- The same source also reports that 11.5% of youth (or over 2.7 million youth) are experiencing severe major depression2. Rates of a severe major depressive episode were highest among youth who identified as more than one race, at 16.5% (about 123,000 youth)2.
- According to Forbes Health, young adults ages 18 to 25 in the U.S have the highest rate of experiencing mental health conditions (30.6%), followed by those ages 26 to 49 (25.3%) and adults ages 50 and over (14.5%)3.
- According to the American Psychological Association, psychologists are working on various solutions to help youth cope with the mental health crisis, such as developing and disseminating evidence-based interventions, improving clinical training and capacity, and advocating for policy changes4.
The need for mental health support is evident, and we must find holistic approaches to address these challenges effectively.
The Healing Power of Nature:
Numerous studies have highlighted the positive impact of nature on mental health. Spending time in nature has been linked to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending just two hours per week in nature is associated with better physical and mental health.
Nature as a Source of Purpose:
Beyond its calming effects, nature can also be a catalyst for purpose and personal growth. Engaging in conservation efforts or connecting with environmental causes allows youth to find meaning and purpose in their lives. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that youth engaged in environmental projects reported higher levels of self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.
The Playa Puertecito Effect:
Our Boulder to Baja project has allowed us to witness firsthand the transformative power of nature on youth mental health. The magical experiences on Playa Puertecito’s land have kindled a spirit of hope, fostering resilience and a deep sense of purpose among the young participants. As they immerse themselves in the wonders of nature, they also connect with a larger community, forging bonds that support their mental well-being.
Building a Supportive Community:
Alongside nature, fostering a sense of community is essential in supporting youth mental health. The American Psychological Association emphasizes the role of social connections in protecting against mental health issues. Our project emphasizes collaboration and unity, creating spaces where young individuals can feel supported and connected.
To address the mental health crisis among youth, we must raise awareness and advocate for change. By sharing stories of transformation and the healing power of nature and purpose, we can inspire communities to prioritize mental health support for young individuals.
How you can help someone who is struggling Now:
- Start a conversation with the person in a comfortable and private space. Ask them how they are feeling and what they are going through. Be patient and respectful, and avoid judging or criticizing them1.
- Listen to what they have to say and show empathy and compassion. Don’t interrupt or try to fix their problems, but rather reflect back what you hear and validate their feelings12.
- Offer your support and ask them how you can help. You can also suggest some resources or options for getting professional help, such as a therapist, a hotline, or a support group13. You can also offer to pray with them if they are religious and comfortable with it2.
- Give them hope and encouragement for recovery. Remind them that they are not alone and that there are treatments and coping strategies that can help them feel better12.
- Look after yourself as well. Supporting someone with mental health problems can be stressful and emotionally draining, so make sure you take care of your own well-being and seek help if you need it14.
As we continue our Boulder to Baja adventure, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to empowering youth mental health. The evidence is clear: connecting with nature and discovering purpose are potent remedies for mental well-being. Together, let us support the next generation in navigating life’s complexities with strength, resilience, and a profound connection to the healing power of nature.
To read more empowering articles and share your voice in our EmpowerGen column, visit our website: Join the ‘EmpowerGen’ Revolution – Dream Tank (wearedreamtank.org)
1: Youth data 2023 | Mental Health America 4: Kids’ mental health is in crisis. Here’s what psychologists are doing to help | American Psychological Association 2: Prevalence Data 2023 | Mental Health America 3: Mental Health Statistics (2023) – Forbes Health
National Academy of Sciences – Nature and Mental Health: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/11/5187
University of Minnesota – Environmental Projects and Well-Being: https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/184916
American Psychological Association – Social Connections and Mental Health: https://www.apa.org/topics/social-connections