Three Perspectives on Discovering the Mental Health Benefits of Nature

The outdoors may help us focus or heal, but many grow up isolated from it.

Editor's note: These personal perspectives are a part of "The Nature Antidote," appearing in the Winter 2019 issue of Audubon Magazine. Read more of the story here

Will 'Akuna' Robinson is an Iraq war veteran and accomplished long-distance hiker

I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I tried pretty much every type of medication there is. I’ve done various therapies. None of it helped me. The medications just made me feel numb to the world, and I isolated myself. Then I started getting outdoors and hiking. Being out in nature made me be present, more in the moment.

Back home, I had panic attacks in pretty much every social situation. But on the trail, I was socializing with other hikers. I was opening up and actually talking to people. I was able to scale back on my medication. More and more of myself started just coming back in the picture. —As told to Jill U. Adams

Viviana Franco is the founder and executive director of From Lot to Spot, a Los Angeles nonprofit 

I grew up in a low-income neighborhood decimated by the creation of Los Angeles’s last freeway. It cut off access to a park and left us with cul-de-sacs and vacant lots. When I went to high school, I witnessed for the first time a different built environment. There were trees on the street, gardens, and parks. I didn't know that was an option. 

That’s where From Lot to Spot was born. Why don’t we take blighted lots that demoralize communities and create community-designed green spaces? We’ve built 14 in L.A. County and have about eight in development. We also partnered with the county's Department of Mental Health. In California, local and state governments are starting to get the equity conversation. But they can’t rely on nonprofits. They need to step it up. —As told to Jessica Leber 

Jabes Otieno is a multicultural outreach coordinator for a Seattle environmental nonprofit, ECOSS

When I came to Seattle from Kenya, I knew there were mountains but I didn't know that people can go hike and even camp. I discovered the benefits of hiking and started reaching out to my community through my work. Hiking centers me spiritually, and centeredness is an aspect of our traditions.

It’s only a bus fare to get to a hiking trail outside the city with Trailhead Direct, a pilot public transport service that ferries people to wild areas that aren’t easy to access. There's an East African community in the city of Tukwila that has a station. I led a group to go experience this wonderful nature on the Sky Country trail at Cougar Mountain. And I could see in their eyes, they were just taken aback. The kids were like: ‘What? In America, you can walk around in nature?’ —As told to Jill U. Adams