Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mental Health Prescription: Nature

I love to travel. It satiates my curiousity about the world and it disrupts the monotony that can accompany daily life. And when I travel, exploring the natural world is always on my agenda; whether it is an urban garden or outlying areas of unspoiled nature.

Travel also serves as a way to de-stress because I disconnect from the usual demands of my home base. One of my favorite ways to stay healthy on the road and at home - both physically and mentally - is to go for a hike. Walking in nature is a powerful mood stabilizer with great side effects. Instead of the long litany of negative side effects that often come with taking medications for mental health, walking outside comes with a great list of benefits: reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer and is a great way to reach and maintain a healthy weight.

A recent study* by Stanford researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (July 2015) found that walking in nature served as an anti-depressant. The study wanted to explore why it is that people who live in urban areas have a much higher risk of mental illness. This has been a consistent finding but the cause/effect relationship is unclear. For example, city dwellers have a 20% increased risk of anxiety and a 40% increased risk of mood disorders as compared to people who live in rural areas**.

The study assigned one group of people to walk in a grassland area with trees and another group to walk along a busy 4-lane urban road. They found little to no impact on physiological conditions but marked differences in the brain. Those who walked in nature had a lot less activity in the area of the brain that is active when people focus on negative emotions.

So the takeaway for people with bipolar disorder: Take a hike! Get your mind and body healthy by going outside and enjoying the positive benefits for your mind and your body.

*Bratman, GN, Hamilton, JP, Hahn, KS, Daily GC, & Gross, JJ. (2015). Nature experiences reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 112 (28), 8567-8572.
**Jordan, R. (2015). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Stanford News, June 30.
Photo credit: I took this picture on a recent trip to Glacier National Park with my daughter.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mental Health Awareness Month 2016: Stories and Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and so mental health issues have been front and center in many publications. I have been featured in the Women's Health magazine mental health campaign and been cited in a Vh1 article. I include links to these pieces below, along with links to other articles and websites.

My Bipolar Disorder was misdiagnosed as ADHD, Women's Health, May 2016

Here's what Hollywood gets wrong about bipolar disorder, Vh1, May 5, 2016

Women's Health magazine feature on mental health awareness, May 2016

Mental illness is not a "white person disorder", Mater Mea, May 2016

National Alliance on Mental Illness