Getting in touch with nature can improve mental health

The Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network has a project on the go in four communities throughout Western Newfoundland with a focus of developing a culturally-based, youth approach to mental health.

Titled “Elders and Youth breaking the Silence on Mental Health,” the program is aimed at working with youth age nine to 14 years from Benoit’s Cove, Lourdes, St. George’s and Stephenville.

The program kicked off in St. George’s last week with an event on Wednesday where a student of Our Lady of Mercy School was recognized for his drawing that was adopted as the logo for the project.

Patrick Ballett came up with the winning entry, which had pretty well all the elements that fit in with the program.

Valentina Nolan, the project co-ordinator, explained how when she was growing up in Flat Bay that young people would spend a lot of time outdoors playing different games and enjoying things in nature, from the sounds of the water to maybe even getting pushed off the wharf at the local pond.

It’s recognized today that drug use — especially prescription drugs — teen suicide, lack of identity, coping skills, low self-esteem, petty crime all have an increased impact on mental health.

This project is designed to bring Elders and youth together to work on community specific solutions.

It hopes to empower indigenous youth living off reserve to ensure they understand their roles in their families, communities and the world at large. As youth develop a relationship with Elders and knowledge of where they come from, it’s felt they will become stronger.

The culturally based programming can be anything from a talking circle to a fishing trip, from a sweat lodge to berry picking. During the year Nolan and others will meet with youth and Elders from the target communities to listen, develop and share knowledge.

It’s really all about getting back in touch with nature — the outdoors and things like the sounds of the water, the crackling of an open fire, the sun and wind on your face and the sounds in nature that surround us.

None of this is being forced on the youth and it’s totally their own decision if they want to get involved in the project. If they do they will have the opportunity to be part of how it the project evolves and likely learn a lot from the Elders.

They will also likely teach Elders a thing or two as Elders will say they don’t know it all and continue their path of lifelong learning.

It’s the recipe of a great program and it will be interesting how it develops during its during its one-year life span.