Time Outside Promotes Mental Well-Being

June 27, 2024, Department, by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick

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A father and son tossing around a baseball to break in a new glove, a young couple laying down a blanket and having a picnic underneath a large oak tree, and older adults scurrying around a pickleball court heaving shots back and forth to each other all are fun activities that take place outdoors. But besides exercise, these activities also serve a greater purpose: improving mental health. According to NRPA, nearly all adults (93 percent) say park and recreation activities benefit their mental health. This simple, yet sometimes difficult, task of leaving the indoors and walking outside improves moods and brightens the day.

As a co-chair of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force, I strive to educate, raise awareness, and take immediate action to provide support and hope to the millions of people struggling across the country. My biggest concern is when health issues are discussed, the predominant focus tends to be from the neck down. There is much less emphasis placed on the neck up. However, that is slowly beginning to change thanks to the decreasing stigma in our society about publicly discussing mental health issues. But we must do more. The message needs to be loud and clear that it is just as important to take care of mental health as physical health, and it is not a sign of weakness to seek support from a mental health professional.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic created new barriers we still are trying to remedy for Americans with pre-existing mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The pandemic also generated concerns for those previously unaffected by mental health issues, including Americans who spent most of the time hunkered down in their homes to avoid themselves or their loved ones becoming ill.

Improving Mental Health

Besides seeking out a professional, one of the easiest and best ways to improve mental health in our daily lives is to simply go outdoors. Unfortunately, not all Americans have the same access to fresh air, parks and other green spaces.

The bipartisan, bicameral Outdoors for All Act, which I’m proud to co-sponsor, would develop parks and increase access to recreational activities in urban areas and communities that lack access to the recreational and educational programs hosted by them.

A report from Active Living Research makes the case very clear: residents have fewer mental health issues and live happier, more productive lives when residing in locations with easy access to green areas. The more time spent enjoying the great outdoors and green spaces, the more it helps decrease the likelihood of depression, anxiety and stress. Ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to access parks and the additional activities they provide, including educational programming, is a critical way to improve health and quality of life.

Youth Mental Health

Another concern in our local communities is the children who were affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still dealing with the fallout of being educated virtually. Unfortunately, there are just not enough mental health professionals to assist children across the country. More than 38 percent of America’s school students do not have adequate access to comprehensive mental health resources. The bipartisan Mental Health in Schools Excellence Program Act I introduced last year would increase access to these desperately needed services.

The bill instructs the U.S. Education Secretary to direct grants or scholarships to any student studying to enter the school-based mental health field and address this critical need. We must do everything we can to support our children. It is important to give them support at school and increase their access to green spaces. During this Park and Recreation Month, I urge you to get outside, clear your head, be active and educate your friends on the importance of prioritizing mental health.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick represents Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District and co-chairs the bipartisan Mental Health Caucus.