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)

For more outdoors related content, reach out through our own Facebook Group.

Suicide stats from:


It was after being in the deepest part of the wood for the best part of the afternoon that I had my revelation. We had been walking for well over an hour and had actually circled back and were on our return journey. I searched and found a spot- a clearing in the pines- I had been to many times before so we could have something to eat. Nobody ever goes down there, to that part we were at, except the deer and some pretty large rabbits, badgers, foxes or whatever it was that made those huge holes we found but we were done with that and needed food. So we had headed back up to the centre and found the place for lunch. I sat on the ground with my back leaning against an old tree stump. Most other parts of the woods were heavy with water due to the recent rainfall but the pine floor here had dried out nicely if it had ever gotten significantly wet at all. This would be the driest area in the whole woodland.

I poured my lunch from my flask; my wife’s amazing lentil and vegetable soup. While enjoying my first small cup, I realised I had not been here, to this clearing, or even this woodland in quite some time. I couldn’t actually recall the last time I was here. There was a time I would come here two or three times a week. Now it wasn’t even once a month. I was needing something; a spiritual moment perhaps, a sign maybe to reconnect, to let me know all was well and I was heading in the right direction. Something, but what it was, I wasn’t sure.

The sun parted the trees in front of me a shone on me like God’s torch. It cracked the gap in the trees that were not yet fully leafless in the distant foliage. In this late October afternoon the sun shone on me directly. Like a beacon. This was the sign I needed, the comfort, the reassurance even. Like a semi-permanent lighthouse, I enjoyed the best lunch I had in ages, basking in the light and warmth of the after…voices!

A dog barks! No yelps, that was no bark, a Jack Russel or similar. They were still a while off yet but I heard it and so did my dog. He’s alert, ears up, tail wagging, eyes and nose towards the intruders. My meditative moment had been broken so I went back to enjoying my soup and took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the view. Not that it was much of a view and the pictures, like all pictures when compared to the human senses, don’t do it justice. The sun streamed into my face, in lines, cutting through the trees like a thick hot laser. The voices, still too far away to hear what they were saying, passed but they never noticed me, or the dog and I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts to want to talk or even care about strangers right now. They disappeared as quickly as they came and the beacons remained on me.

Where is this taking Last Wolf? Where is it taking me, or where is it telling me to go? The answer I came to realise then was quite simple. Here. Right here. This is where I found my sign and this is where I need to find my inspiration. At home with books, music, the internet; research whether its academia or Wikipedia, all that is fine but this is where I need to be. Right here, in this present moment and it has to be. Out here in the open spaces, or spaces forgotten, unused and unnoticed. My homemade soup tastes like ambrosia from Calypso. An old tree stump on a forest floor is as comfy as sitting on countless cushions, and I wouldn’t trade anyway. A light shines, beckoning to me. To show me what? The path, the light, the way. Last Wolf is the way. This is my inspiration. Where do you get yours?

“I’m a heathen, searching for his soul.” Primordial: Gallows Hymn

Live Deliberately


Currently listening to: Wolcensmen, Songs From the Mere E.P. Lady of the Depe is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in some time.