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Being Part of the Solution to our Mental Health Epidemic

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Author: Peter Alternative

As I alluded to in my 1st post, the US has a mental health epidemic. Some of the regularly sited mental health statistics that jumped off of the page for me, as seen below include:

· 1 in 4 are affected by mental illness

· More than 10M adults have an unmet need for mental health treatment

· 8.6 million adults have suicidal tendencies

· Suicide is 3rd leading cause of death

· 70 % of youth with depression still need treatment

· 1 in 30 experience PTSD

· 4-5 million children are reported to state agencies due to abuse or neglect

As more and more headlines state, COVID has been traumatizing for many. So, we have a growing problem along with a growing number of sufferers that go untreated. The question that occurs to me is what treatments are readily available to address the growing unmet need. There are medicines that can help, with the JAMA reporting a 34% jump in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and a 19% increase in prescriptions for antidepressants. Psychotherapy, which I have experienced is another modality of therapy but it's widely recognized that demand for these services is much greater than the supply. There is a growing body of research that points to nature and more specifically time in wilderness, as a scientifically proven intervention as effective as any. This makes perfect sense to me based on my own personal experience where my anxiety and frenetic mind experienced the calm and clarity of nature. In fact, Canadian MDs are prescribing time in nature to their patents, as reported in this CNN article

I have had the good fortune of spending several extended stays in wilderness, starting with a semester in the Rockies through NOLS in my youth and more recently summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro for my 50th birthday with 15 of my closest friends and family. In fact, the entire idea and genesis of the name for Sherpa of Souls came from the wife of a dear friend, who upon hearing of the game changing experience her husband had summiting the highest free-standing mountain on the African continent – you know Peter you are a kind of Sherpa of Souls. Her husband is conservative and likes to stay in his comfort zone, which definitely did not include submitting a 19,000 mountain, in part due to an acute fear of heights. Despite his reservations, he submitted Kilimanjaro and declared: “I must admit climbing Kili is the gift that keeps on giving: part of me will never be the same and I have changed for the better!”. The game changing nature of the experience propelled me to think about how I could replicate this type of experience with as many people as I could and ultimately to make time in wilderness part of the healthcare prescription to promote mental wellness.

This is why Sherpa of Souls was created. That is to provide small group wilderness travel experiences that combines backcountry travel with mindfulness and community. The integration of these three components are critical to maximize impact both in and out of the field. More specifically, nature does the heavy lifting in the field in terms of creating an environment whereby achieving a calm and clear mind is achievable whereas outside the field amongst the grind and noise of our daily lives makes it more difficult. Therein lies the importance of developing mindfulness skills, so that the probability of returning to a place of calm and clarity outside of the field improves. As William James said in 1890 “While you’re captivated by the wondrous, you will not be consumed by the worrisome. You will enter the restorative, rejuvenating state known as mindfulness.”

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