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mother and daughter planting flowers outdoors
May 11, 2023

Nature and Spending Time Outdoors Can Benefit Mental Health

Behavioral Health Providers Offer Support during National Mental Health Awareness Month

May is nationally recognized as Mental Health Month. The goal is to provide outreach, education, resources and help communities engage in conversations about mental health. Throughout the month, ThedaCare will be featuring resources related to mental health topics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adult Americans experience some form of mental illness each year. There are more than 200 diagnoses identified as mental illness. In recent years, spending time in nature has been identified as one significant way to improve mental health.

“What’s important for everyone to understand is that experiencing a struggle with mental health is not uncommon,” said Ashley Bartha, LPC, a counselor at ThedaCare Behavioral Health Walk-In Care-Neenah. “When we’re living with a mental health concern, it’s easy to feel alone and think that no one understands what we’re going through. That’s not true, many others have had similar experiences and will understand.”

Bartha defined mental health concerns as conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental health can be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

“When thoughts or feelings prevent you from coping with everyday life, then it’s time to seek some professional assistance,” said Bartha. “And we want our communities to know our care teams are here to help.”

She noted that major life events such as job changes, the ending of a relationship or the serious illness or death of a family member or friend can cause someone to experience a change in their mental health.  

“Depression, lack of support and anxiety with the unknown are common mental health concerns that anyone can experience at difficult times,” said Bartha. “Then, there are other mental health concerns that follow us throughout our whole life, and most are treatable. This is a medical issue, just like heart disease or diabetes.”

Bartha added that being in an unpleasant environment can cause us to feel anxious, sad or depressed.

“Those are the kind of feelings that could trigger some type of mental health distress,” said Bartha. “On the flip side, being in a pleasant environment can positively impact mental health and physical well-being by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.”

Research suggests that being in nature can provide various benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. International studies have specifically pinpointed the amount of time a person needs to spend in touch with nature during a normal week, and those studies recommend 120 minutes.

“What’s key is the connection to nature, the experience of feeling part of something greater than ourselves and the tactile experience of touching things,” said Bartha. “Humans are curious. Being out in nature allows us to focus on things outside of ourselves and be more mindful and present in the moment. It provides respite for an overactive mind, which we all experience at times in today’s hustle and bustle society.”

Bartha noted that research also indicates that simply being exposed to elements of nature, such as having plants or images of nature in our homes or offices, watching nature programs or videos, gardening or raising plants in pots on our balcony or windowsill can create that healthy nature connection and produce similar calming results.

“For those who might not have convenient access to the outdoors, there are alternative ways to experience that connection, to stimulate the right receptors to release the serotonin that makes us happy,” she said. “We would encourage them to explore other options that might provide the opportunity to bring nature to them.”

Bartha continued to support the benefits of nature to help with mental health concerns.

“The ability for nature experiences to lower mental, emotional and physical distress in people of all ages – kids, adults, older folks – is well proven,” said Bartha. “With spring arriving, and May being mental health awareness month, it’s an ideal time for all of us to seek out ways to include more connections with nature in our lives.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.