Evidence-based treatments for mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, psychosis and schizophrenia are available through wilderness programs. It is thought that many of these disorders can be treated effectively in wilderness settings. Wilderness therapy is an effective treatment for all mental disorders except addiction. Addiction to a specific substance or activity is not generally a concern in wilderness treatment. One aspect of evidence-based therapies is the use of wilderness therapy models. These models, which are based on traditional indigenous ways of living, include such practices as hunting and fishing, plant and flower cultivation, spiritual and physical practices, and bead work.
Evidence of their effectiveness is extensive, and many people who have received treatment in wilderness therapy have become so well adjusted that they have been able to develop close and lasting relationships with their families and friends. Some people have even gone on to teach others in the same situation. The evidence of effectiveness is also apparent in the low prevalence of hospital admissions for psychiatric conditions.
Rates of suicide are very low and the number of people treated in wilderness programs for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions is even lower. Those who do receive hospital treatment for mental disorders have usually recovered after a short period in the wilderness. Recovery is rapid both emotionally and physically. Evidence of healthy lifestyles can be observed in the families of those who have received treatment in wilderness programs. This leads some to believe that if something can be done so easily, then it is possible to cure even serious mental disorders. Recovery from any chronic illness is a multi-disciplinary approach involving family therapy, medical treatment, therapy, lifestyle changes, and social activities. Evidence of recovery in wilderness programs supports the theory that a healthy lifestyle can be achieved by using wilderness approaches to combat mental health problems. The focus of wilderness programs is on achieving positive change in the individual and family. It is believed that positive changes can improve the quality of life for an individual and family. Evidence shows that wilderness programs can be effective in the recovery of alcoholics and other drug addicts who are suffering from substance abuse. People who live in or near nature are at a much lower risk of exposure to drugs and alcohol. The social benefits include a decrease in the risk of violence in family environments and community groups. An increased sense of social and environmental responsibility is another important benefit of wilderness programs. Evidence of the effectiveness of wilderness treatments in the treatment of severe mental health disorders includes a reduction in the use of medications. In an environment without constant contact with people, the physical and mental health of the patient is not suffering. As a result, medication usage is reduced and medication dosage is less. This results in fewer side effects. This translates to improved mood, a reduction of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and improved overall mental health. The treatment of depression is also facilitated by the setting in which the patient lives. Wilderness treatment also provides a supportive network.
This "rebound" effect helps to encourage a social recovery. The social interaction, leadership opportunities, and support of wilderness residents promote healthy relations among residents. This facilitates "brainstorming" and the development of new skills. In this way, the wilderness has a positive influence on the mental health of all those who live there. This evidence of effectiveness of wilderness programs is convincing. Studies have shown that wilderness programs have a profound positive impact on the mental health of their occupants. The treatment of depression and other mental disorders is enhanced by living in the great outdoors. It is no wonder then, that so many hospitals, clinics, and mental health organizations across the country include wilderness as a treatment option.