The Mental Benefits of Forest Walking

Posted on 30 July, 2016  in Conditions, News
Henri Rousseau, "Woman in Red in the Forest"

Henri Rousseau, “Woman in Red in the Forest”


Recent brain research, reported a year ago in The New York Times, is affirming a truth that William Wordsworth discovered long ago: walking in nature is a powerful means of treating depression.

Writing in the Times’s “Well” column, Gretchen Reynolds noted,

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature. 

The head of the study is Stanford University student Gregory Bratman at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. Bratman came to his insights while studying the psychological impact of urban living. There are indeed causes of concern:

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

In the first phase of his study, Bratman discovered that “volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.”

In the second phase, he looked at the impact of nature walks on people who brood:

Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.

Perhaps most interesting for the purposes of Mr. Bratman and his colleagues, however, such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

Examining the brain, Bratman discovered that, for those walking by the highway, “[b]lood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged. By contrast,

the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

Wordsworth was definitely a brooder and he describes urban living as being damaging to his mental health. In Tintern Abbey he talks of living in “lonely rooms” and being disturbed by “the din of towns and cities.” He experiences “the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world” and later mentions “the fretful stir unprofitable, and the fever of the world” and “the dreary intercourse of daily life.”

Luckily, he has visited the Wye River and so has memories he can fall back on—“emotion recollected in tranquility” as he describes the process in the preface to Lyrical Ballads:

I have owed to them [my memories],
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration… 


To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

Think of this as another way of saying that the brain is quieter because there is “less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex.” Guess which articulation I prefer.

Like a good scientist, Bratman acknowledges that we don’t yet know what precisely about nature walks changes the brain. He wonders how long must a walk be, what within the walk we find the most soothing, and whether it matters if we are alone or accompanied. With regards to this final question, Wordsworth has something to say.

While many of his walks are solitary, something is added when he visits the Wye with his sister Dorothy, whom he describes as his “dear, dear Friend.” Being with her, he says, enhances the experience:

[Nor] wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

So go out and take a walk. Alone or with someone else

This article, The Mental Benefits of Forest Walking, first appeared on Better Living through Beowulf.

Hani leaves Somalia for a better future

Posted on 30 July, 2016  in Conditions, News

By Remedios Varga-Taylor,

Being a teenager is a volatile time with awkwardness and an emergent independence making life confusing. Hani Abdile was 16 when her parents gave her to a family friend, who was also a people smuggler.

Hani, now 18, lives in a quiet Sydney suburb. It’s a very different life to her family’s nomadic tribal life in Somalia. Her small apartment is behind a school so she can hear the children playing. Her room is sparsely furnished. There is a bed and shelf covered with awards and photos of the friends and people who helped her create a new life in Australia.

Desperate times: Somali refugees dream of a better future. Image courtesy of UNHCR

Desperate times: Somali refugees dream of a better future. Image courtesy of UNHCR

She’s vivacious and connects with people immediately. Hani studies at Bankstown Intensive English College, a branch of Bankstown Senior College. The school takes in children formally held in offshore detention. Many schools won’t. Classes take place in a small room, separate to the main school. On the walls, pictures of the students stare out at you.

Geraldine Lonnon, a counsellor at the college, says Hani’s bright resilience has made her more successful than other students in recovering from immigration detention. “Sometimes you can physically see the effects of detention, marks from self harm and cutting,” she says. “The frustration of feeling hopeless and helpless, the psychic pain is very great.”

Hani is one of many unaccompanied minors who make the dangerous journey to Australia by boat. For her family, it was the constant threats resulting from perpetual civil war and the lack of opportunity and safety for women. Her journey took her from Somalia to Kenya, then Malaysia, Indonesia and finally Australia. It would have been a terrifying journey for anyone, much less someone on the cusp of adulthood.

Her journey took eight days and nine nights. Before reaching Australia, her boat fell apart. Hani, having spent her life in rural Somalia, couldn’t swim. “I remember thinking I was dead,” she says. “Then a coastguard grabbed me and told me to swim. I couldn’t.” In the dark night and rolling waves, the Australian Coast Guard collected the desperate people.

Child psychiatrist Dr Sarah Mares visited Christmas Island while Hani was detained there. She says that while the physical necessities may be taken care of, the mental stress of offshore detention is extremely harmful to children. “They are exposed to a lot of things that in Australia we protect children from, like distressed adults, people harming themselves and violence,” she says.

Hani remembers vividly her experience of offshore detention. She describes the dank atmosphere that engulfed the centre, and the futility and despondency of people waiting indefinitely. Every morning she would wake up and take part in activities like sport or English classes. Detainees can participate in activities to earn credits for things like international phone cards to call their families.

She describes the centre as a blur of grey concrete, locked fences and 24-hour guards. “I call Christmas Island the grave cave of the world,” she says. For Hani, the worst part was the uncertainty of whether she would be released or sent back. Hani was strengthened by the promise of a better future. “You think, ‘I can do this because if I want to die I can go home where people die easily’.”

Geraldine Lonnon says for many of her students, the trauma continues to pervade their lives. “Some of the students have trouble with memory, and intrusive thoughts of their trauma,” she says. “Sometimes they will be walking down the street and have a panic attack.”

The impact on the mental health of people detained in immigration detention is well documented. Dr Mares says the longer people are detained, their mental health worsens. Rates of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder increase. “Very often children regress in their development,” she says. “They become more disturbed.”

Gaby Judd is the founder of the Sydney faction of Grandmas Against the Detention of Refugee Children (GADRC). She and fellow grandma protestors organise vigils, write letters and try and change the hearts and minds of citizens and policymakers. She says her experience as a grandmother led her to her activism. “It’s heartbreaking because I have grandchildren and their basic human rights as children are recognised. Why can’t these kids have such freedom when they’ve done nothing wrong?”

At GADRC’s monthly marches from the Uniting Church in Pitt Street, the grandmas wear purple shirts and hold placards, demanding the release of children held in immigration detention. They march through the city singing songs about freedom and hope. A few people come up and tell them they’re brave. A few people come up and tell them they’re stupid.

Australia’s Migration Act 1958 requires all people who are not Australian citizens without valid visas to be detained until they are granted a visa or leave the country. There is no time limit on immigration detention. Under the current law, a person can be detained indefinitely or until the Australian Government grants them a visa or they agree to leave the country.

In 2011, the Australian Government began expanding its use of temporary bridging visas. Under the TPV, people who have passed initial health, identity and security checks can be given the visa to live in the community while their applications are processed. Hani remembers the day she was granted a TPV. Guards came into her room at daylight, shook her and told her to get her things. She was released into community detention in Sydney.

Under the TPV, asylum seekers are given access to Medicare and provided with a basic allowance, the equivalent of 89 per cent of the Centrelink special benefit. They are not given access to housing and, until 2014, were not allowed to work. Rachael Miles volunteers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and helps refugees apply for residency. “The Government didn’t allow them to work under the TPV because they didn’t want them to form relationships in Australia, they don’t want them to get comfortable here.”

Parliament on King is a café with a specific business model – it provides hospitality training and jobs to refugees. The café is stuffed with records, ornaments and velvet couches. Owner Ravi Prasad intended the café to be a gateway for refugees into Australia. He is careful to emphasise that refugees are people who need to be allowed opportunity. “Hani came through the training and she made us happier,” he says. Hani works at the cafe on Sundays, making coffee and serving customers. Working there has been a good introduction to Australian culture, and a way for her to meet people outside the usual activities afforded to refugees.

Hani is doing well. She lives independently, studies and works. She’s even gained recognition for her poetry through her involvement with the refugee poet group, Writing Through Fences. While it’s hard for her to be so far from her family, she has made many friends and is not alone. What she really wants is to make the most of the opportunities she has here that do not exist in Somalia. “I wish for myself to be better than yesterday because there is nothing to be worried about in the past,” she says.

This article, Hani leaves Somalia for a better future, first appeared on Reportage Online.

Peer Support and Recovery

Posted on 26 June, 2016  in Conditions, News

harry_shulman_lgPeer Support and Recovery

The Shared Benefits  

Recently, South Shore Mental Health opened the doors to its Peer-to-Peer Program at 460 Quincy Avenue in Quincy. Funded by the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, the program is operated in conjunction with the SSMH Emergency Services Program (ESP) and staffed by peers who have lived experience with mental illness. This new resource provides clients with assistance during times when access to mental health services is unavailable. The program is open Thursday and Friday from 5:00 pm until 11:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, and on holidays between the hours of 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.

The mission of the Peer-to-Peer Program is to provide a safe and supportive environment where clients can connect with others whose shared experiences help them work through various stages of crisis. Upon referral, clients can join in peer-led activities, including guided meditation, arts and crafts, and “recovery is real” group discussions. If they prefer, they can just relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, or watch television in a comfortable, home-like atmosphere surrounded by empathetic peers whose similar situations can be invaluable to their recovery. However they choose to spend their time, clients are certain to be met by their peers with respect, understanding, and ongoing encouragement designed to renew hope and strengthen determination to stay on track with their own journey of recovery.

The foundation of mental health peer support in the U.S. can be traced to the 1970’s when many state hospitals and institutions were closed, and former patients needed community support. Angered by mistreatment, many turned to each other for help—sharing practical, social, and emotional guidance in a non-judgmental way. Gaining momentum, the demand for improved mental health services grew, and by the 1980’s, increased funding and recognition of peer support as a powerful recovery tool led to the emergence of peer roles in a multitude of settings. Since then, the practice of employing peers in mental health organizations has grown steadily, and today, they can be found within inpatient and outpatient clinics, respite centers, hospitals, crisis stabilization units, emergency rooms, and more.

At SSMH, in addition to empowering clients in our Peer-to-Peer Program, peer staff work alongside clinicians within our Intensive Community Support, Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) and Transition Resources and Community Supports (TRACS) programs, as well as our Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), Emergency Services Program (ESP) and Successful Employment Program (SEP). Qualified by lived experience and trained through the Massachusetts Certified Peer Specialist Program, each is dedicated to connecting with clients, urging open, honest dialogue—and showing by example that recovery is possible. Role models for the group, they also advocate for their peers, promote healing through relationship building, and provide guidance on other mental health resources if needed.

We’re pleased to add the Peer-to-Peer Program as an enhancement to SSMH’s therapeutic offerings. Studies show that mental health peer programs have reduced hospitalizations, increased coping skills, and enhanced the sense of well-being among individuals struggling with mental health issues. They’ve also been shown to empower support givers during their own recovery. For both peer staff and clients, these are positive findings and we look forward to facilitating these relationships, and continuing to build hope and change the lives of those living with mental illness.

For more information about South Shore Mental Health’s Peer-to-Peer Program, please contact the ESP team at 617-774-6036 or 800-528-4890.

Harry Shulman President/CEO, LICSW

This article, Peer Support and Recovery, first appeared on South Shore Mental Health.

Prince Williams Fathers Day Message: Look After Your Childrens Mental Health

Posted on 22 June, 2016  in Conditions, News

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 11: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte, Prince George and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge stand on the balcony during the Trooping the Colour. (Luca Teuchmann/WireImage)LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 11: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte, Prince George and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge stand on the balcony during the Trooping the Colour. (Luca Teuchmann/WireImage)

Prince William has an important message for all fathers this Father’s Day.

The prince, speaking on his third Father’s Day as a father, published an essay for the U.K.’s Sunday Express on June 19. 

“For me it is a day not just to celebrate how fortunate I am for my young family, but to reflect on just how much I’ve learned about fatherhood and the issues facing fathers in all walks of life,” Prince William wrote.

Mental health—an often overlooked aspect of health—was the main theme of his message.

“In particular, it is a time to reflect on my responsibility to look after not just the physical health of my two children, but to treat their mental needs as just as important a priority.”

The Duke adds that he and the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, as well as his brother Prince Harry have spent a lot of time studying the issues around mental health.

“What we have seen time and time again is that so many of the issues that adolescents and adults are dealing with can be linked to unresolved childhood challenges—addicts that were not getting treatment for a serious psychological condition that started in their teens; men who committed suicide who had been depressed since they were in primary school; homeless teenagers who could not confront significant emotional challenges,” Prince William said.

Prince William also wrote at length about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Recent surveys have found that more than half of parents have never broached the topic of mental well-being with their children, and a third would feel like failures if their child needed help. 

That’s so sad—no parents whose child needs help is a failure. Taking the next step and actually getting help is what matters.”

Prince William concludes by saying “So on this Father’s Day, I encourage all fathers to take a moment to ask their children how they are doing,” and that “if your son or daughter ever needs help, they need their father’s guidance and support just as much as they need their mother’s.” 

Heads Together

For Prince William, spreading mental health awareness is not a new initiative. Heads Together is a program Prince William, Duchess Kate, and Prince Harry launched together in an ongoing battle dedicated to “tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.”

Recently, the organization released a video of Price William having breakfast at a cafe in London, where he was seen chatting with dads and children about their challenges and discussing fatherhood. 

This article, Prince Williams Fathers Day Message: Look After Your Childrens Mental Health, first appeared on The Epoch Times.

ADriane Nieves on the Future of Art

Posted on 17 June, 2016  in Conditions, News


A’Driane Nieves is a USAF veteran, writer, artist, speaker, and postpartum depression and anxiety survivor living with bipolar disorder. A’Driane’s writing – which focuses on the intersections of life, motherhood, art, music, faith, race, and mental health – has be en featured on BlogHer, UpWorthy, EverdayFeminism, Postpartum Progress, and the 2015 Austin Listen To Your Mother ensemble. In 2014, she was a BlogHer Voice of the Year. In 2015, she was nominated for an Iris Award for Most Thought Provoking Content. An activist with a heart for serving, social good, and mental health advocacy, she believes art and words can foster dialogue and serve as a catalyst for personal growth and responsibility.

Tell us about your story as a “butterfly,” what was your metamorphosis like?

My parents divorced when I was about 4 years old, and I lived with my father early on. He was pretty violent and abusive – emotionally, verbally, and physically. At home, I wasn’t allowed to speak unless spoken to or really allowed to even think for myself. My father decided everything for me – when I could eat, speak, sleep, what clothes I wore, how I did my hair…everything. I had zero autonomy or agency over my person. At school I was a bit more free and able to discover parts of who I was and what I liked, but I wasn’t able to carry any of that over into my home life once the bell dismissed us for the day.

So much of my journey has been about trying to extricate myself from the impact that trauma had on me in my childhood and teen years. When I left my father’s house to go live with my mother and stepfather at age 17, I was literally starting my life over. I had no sense of self or identity, my self-esteem was rooted in his total lack of care for me, and I had no voice. I couldn’t even trust myself to make a decision about anything and I was constantly terrified of making the wrong choice. It has taken me the last 16 years to learn to find my voice and trust it, as well as discover who I am as a person, let alone a creative and an artist. Many of those years were a fight, and very dark, but I’m grateful to say I finally feel like I’m coming out of it a whole, healed, embodied woman. I finally feel like I’ve emerged out of the cocoon and have the strength to flex my wings and fly.

A'Driane Nieves

How does your experience with mental illness impact your artwork? Do the colours that you use help you to express these more difficult themes?

Painting has become as crucial to maintaining my mental health as a sort of medication and therapy as well as a form of physical movement. I laugh when I think about that, because in school, my creativity was always expressed through writing and performance based arts like dance and theater. I never saw myself as a visual artist. The closest I came to creating visual art was composing collages of pictures in my journals full of poetry and prose.

I didn’t attempt to paint until early 2012. I had been diagnosed in July 2011 with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2, OCD, and anxiety after suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of my second child. On a recommendation from my therapist, I was in the crafting aisle at Walmart, looking for something I could “make” with my hands. I was looking for crochet hooks and yarn when I saw some canvas boards, brushes, and small tubes of paint. I gave up trying to crochet about a week later and sat in front of the canvas boards, brush in hand, just putting random colors down on it. My mind was reeling that day from anxiety and I remember my thoughts were loud, scattered, and stuck in a ruminating loop. I needed a distraction, something to help me cope with the intensity of the hypomania I was experiencing. After about 10 minutes of painting I noticed my mind had grown quieter and I felt peaceful.

So that’s what painting is for me – it’s a peace giving form of self-care that helps me cope with the shifts in mood and other symptoms that I experience. It helps me process what I’m experiencing in a safe, constructive way without placing a demand on me, which I feel writing sometimes does. With paint, I can just let go and trust that it has me, and that whatever it is that needs to come out is going to show up on whatever surface I’m working with. It drives my creative process, but in a way that’s empowering versus one that’s destructive.

It is evident that a theme of “survival” runs through your work. How does it play out in other aspects of your life?

You know, I’m only 33, but I’ve survived a lot of things – abuse and sexual assault as a child, a deployment in the military, homelessness, being a single mother, postpartum depression…I’m a Black woman navigating systemic racism and microaggressions in a country where Black life continues to be devalued and snuffed out by state sanctioned violence and cultural apathy. I’m a mother of three children with varying special needs. Fighting for survival and for a sense of autonomy is all I know how to do. It’s a daily, conscious decision I have to make, sometimes several times a day. Since turning 30, something I’ve really tried to do is to be just as intentional about thriving and living my life as I am about survivng. It feels like a fairly daunting task most days, but again, this is where painting and living a creatively driven life helps. I’m trying to show that in my work, these themes of surviving and thriving simultaneously in the face of whatever circumstances are present. When people see and experience my work, I want them to know that it’s possible – that they’re capable of doing it too.A'Driane Nieves

When we talk about the future, what sort of images or ideas come to mind? How do you think the role of the female artist will change in the next 50 years?

I first wonder what advances in technology will empower us to disrupt systems (media, healthcare, education) that are either outdated or don’t put us (everyday people, patients, consumers, students, etc.) in the driver’s seat. I think about how technology will continue to increase our access to information and enable us to create, publish, and share our own work without needing a traditional method or process to do so. I think of self-empowerment and self-determination. Women and other marginalized people have always been the ones to speak to our marginalized experiences, especially women of color, but I’m currently seeing more female artists speaking and standing up. They’re putting their work out there on their own terms and creating their own spaces to showcase it.

We will be in the driver’s seat and we will have access to platforms to share it far and wide. Our role will be the same as it’s always been, telling our stories, teaching, creating, etc., but the filters and gatekeepers that have silenced us will be gone. I’m a huge fan of Afrofuturism and the work of writers and artists like Sun Ra, Octavia Butler, Ellen Gallagher and Basquiat, Janelle Monae and King Britt, so I also think a lot about the hope I have for Black liberation as I ponder the future. Over the next 50 years, I hope that women artists are finally seen as the leaders and innovators we are, and that our perspectives become more of the default instead of an afterthought.

I also see people being able to share their lived experiences through art and storytelling via mediums like virtual reality, which I think can help us connect to other people and immerse ourselves into their lives or perspectives in a much more personal, sensory, and dynamic way. I’m hoping that virtual reality can expand our interactions with visual and performance art – what would it be like to be inside an artist’s or musician’s mind as they compose a song or begin a painting? I want to find out! I think technology will enable people who wouldn’t necessarily see themselves as “artists” tap into that part of themselves and be expressive through visual art.

The post A’Driane Nieves on the Future of Art appeared first on MISC.

This article, ADriane Nieves on the Future of Art, first appeared on MISC.