Posttraumatic stress disorder is common in veterans and makes reintegrating into the civilian world hard for many. Symptoms include trouble sleeping, agitation, irritability, hostility, severe anxiety, feelings of guilt, and loneliness. Good treatments are tough to find, and for many, the drugs commonly prescribed are not enough.
Recent research shows that veterans could consider turning toward nature to subdue symptoms and better their mental health. Veterans have found that this form of therapy, or “ecotherapy,” fosters camaraderie, physical challenge, and personal growth, all of which are reminiscent of the memorable qualities of their military service. The popularity of ecotherapy is growing, and we are beginning to see more and more programs cropping up around the United States.
Stacy Bare, an Iraq war veteran and founder of Military Outdoors, a Sierra Club program that helps veterans access nature to boost mental health and emotional resilience, believes that immersion in nature is a great way to heal after combat. Bare points out that we already intuitively know the positive effects that outdoor recreation can have for mental health, so using outdoor activities to improve the mental health of veterans seems like the next logical step.
Studies like the one from David Scheinfeld, director of research for Project Rebirth, have helped to analyze the impact of immersion in nature on veterans’ anxiety and sense of purpose. So, rather than limiting PTSD treatment to pharmaceuticals, maybe doctors should think about prescribing a backpacking trip or ropes course activity as well.