Depression and the outdoors

It took me a long time to realise how much depression is linked to reactions. How you have reacted, not to one or two specific events but a culmination of many of them, sometimes issues that have been there for an entire lifetime. It is not a simple straightforward reason that you just need to get over and there is no easy fix. But there are a number of things that can be done to make things go a bit more smoothly and hopefully make a move towards the exit from that downward spiral sooner. The biggest one of these is very relevant to us, and certainly one of the main reasons for the existence of Last Wolf.

It is this, and it remains the biggest cure for me in battling my mental demons to this day. Go outside. Seems simple right? And if it was that easy there wouldn’t be such a thing as poor mental health, depression or even suicide. For some people it is not that straightforward and I understand that. But for those who can, and who currently don’t, the best thing you can do is spend regular quality time outdoors.

Set yourself a task, start off small. Walk round the park every day, read the newspaper on a bench (a good pair of waterproof breeks will help), walk to the local library and take a book out, return it the next day if you don’t want to read and do the task again. The task can also be big; walk to the next town, walk up your nearest hill or mountain and increase from there, take a flask to a woodland and enjoy your soup/coffee/tea/hot chocolate with your back against an ancient tree, whittle on a stick while you’re there or build a small fire and develop some bush craft skills. Alternatively it can be huge. Complete a round of Munros, walk the West Highland Way, swim the English Channel. Aim high, just don’t go jumping too far without the necessary experience. It’s the experience itself we’re after.

This has to be done regularly, every day, every weekend or as close to this as possible. Embrace an obsession. The point being that the more time you spend outside the more your interest expands and the more your mind will wander from the dark places to something else. In other words, distract yourself and get in the vitamin D at the same time. The regenerative power from sitting under a tree for any length of time is huge. Watching the sunset from an ancient yew or the top of a hill is timeless.

Although I have always been interested in Scottish history in a broad sense, my treks into the mountains localised my interests in history and folklore, topography, ecology and nature. These were topics I may not have considered interesting previously, or even known what they were. Over time you may find a love for birds, or trees, or weather, or exercising outdoors (see our guide to that here by the way).  Who knows who you may meet on these excursions and what situations you may end up in? Speak to people, say hello, look around, learn, play.

I remember my first ever Munro. It was the dead of winter, the snow up to our knees. Woefully inexperienced we were, but it holds one of the dearest memories of my adult life. On the descent from what had been a wonderful day, my dad and I glissading down, the technical term for ‘sliding down on our arses’, laughing harder than we had in a long time; the happiest I had been in years, playing in the snow like we did at Anster golf course when I was wee.

There’s an incredible amount of pressure put on young men these days. I can only imagine that this is at least doubled for females, but I can only specifically speak for males because I am one. My theory is there is a problem age for males around the late twenties and early thirties. At this stage in their lives men are more likely to begin feelings of depression, anxiety and a general lapse in mental health. The vigour of youth is waning, they may be developing alcohol or substance abuse problems, their rock star dreams haven’t happened or, for one friend I remember saying vividly that by 33 he realised he was never going to play for Scotland.

This news was crushing, and it may seem flippant but looking at it in more depth reveals a fear of the future. It’s the idea of being past it, about the rest of your life being useless because you’ve held that dream for so long. I’m not claiming this to be anything scientific, but it is based on many people I have known and spoken to. It has to do with the conflicting emotions of becoming ‘a man’, a real one, not the one you were pretending to be at 22. It is to do with finding your own place in a world that isn’t the place you thought it was going to be.

Roughly a generation after that, the age bracket for men between 45 and 49, is statistically the second highest for suicide. The 50 to 54 bracket is not far behind. This speaks volumes, especially when it is second only to the over nineties. Male depression hits around thirty and by the late forties it has peaked with tragic results. Look out for your friends, brothers and partners. Look out for each other. A walk in the woods may be all that person needs to perk up their day.

Accepting that there are certain things you can’t control is hard, but how you spend your time isn’t one of them. There is a mountain of really helpful Facebook groups that I wasn’t aware of until relatively recently. Use them, find your inner outdoor interest, because it will help, believe me.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
John Muir: The Mountains of California

Live deliberately


Currently listening to Piano Works 1 and 2 by Anton Belov. Amazing haunting ambient piano.

Some helpful links (Scotland/UK only)

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