OP ED: Young adults need to learn outdoors – for their mental health, for our community’s prosperity

(Youth participate in an outdoor wilderness expedition. Photo: CPAWS)

Young adults in our community face more stress than ever as the pandemic rages on. Regular changes to their school schedules, from shifting semester structures to hopping back and forth from in-person to online, create a lack of consistency.

Many young adults are overscheduled. The weight of excelling in school, extracurriculars, and part time jobs is crushing them. 

And thanks to the pandemic, they’re spending more time aimlessly scrolling than ever before.

Over 90% of Canadians aged 15 to 34 are spending more time online than before the pandemic began, according to a Statistics Canada report.  This can lead to mental health struggles. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates 20% of Canadian youth struggle with a mental illness or disorder.

What can we do about this?

To celebrate International Day of Education and its theme of “Changing Course, Transforming Education,” we need to focus on what’s truly important for our community’s youth.

Young adults are not productivity machines.

They need to find a balance between in-person and online activities with opportunities to learn from nature.

Research shows spending time in nature decreases feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. This can help young adults in our community battle pandemic-related stressors.

Time in nature does more than boost happiness, though.

When youth spend time outdoors, they learn the skills necessary to take calculated risks. This builds their confidence and decision making, something they carry with them into adulthood.

They also learn a desire to take care of their community’s nature when they’re immersed in it regularly.

 Young adults care about the turtles they can see and the trees they can touch.

They are climate change activists, fully aware of less green space in their neighborhoods and less animals scurrying around.

It’s time to reconnect youth to nature to help them learn and support their community.

There are two solutions we can adopt to help young adults learn about nature, how it helps ease their stress, and how important it is for our communities.

The first solution: encourage them go outside and learn on their own.

Outdoor activities must follow pandemic guidelines of course, but there are many opportunities for young adults to connect with wild spaces while still being safe.

Gatineau Park has nearly 80 kilometres of snowshoe trails ranging in length and difficulty.

The Rideau Winter Trail is a breathtaking spot for cross country skiing.

And physical distancing is made easy with winter biking or walking along the Britannia Winter Trail.

The second solution?

Join an outdoor education program.

These programs provide an opportunity for youth to build friendships with like-minded people passionate about spending time outdoors.

And youth get to learn about protecting the environment by learning directly from industry experts.

The Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program is an example of an outdoor education program offered in our city.

The program is hosted by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley chapter. It’s designed to be an educational experience for young adults aged 18-30, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards by connecting local youth to their community’s wild spaces.

Participants of the program go on a wilderness expedition, lead a volunteer community project focused on environmental conservation, and participate in a summit to learn advocacy and leadership skills.

We need to help young adults rebalance their lives.

Learning in nature and connecting with the wild is key.

Chloé McMillan
Education Director
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley chapter

CPAWS-OV works to protect public lands in the National Capital Region and surrounding areas.


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