Chillin’ in the Arb

For Humber students like Chloe Harris, 20, and Tyrus McIntosh, 19, both in Media Foundations, getting out into nature in the Arb helps to clear their heads.  Photo by Nick Jean For Humber students like Chloe Harris, 20, and Tyrus McIntosh, 19, both in Media Foundations, getting out into nature in the Arb helps to clear their heads. Photo by Nick Jean

Clare Jenkins
Environment Reporter

Ever get stressed and need to go get a breath of fresh air? There may be more to that than you think.

According to, major depression is the number one psychological disorder in the Western world. Among any circle of friends or family members, it’s likely everyone has met at least one person who has suffered from depression. One in six people suffer from depression, according to, a national Australian initiative to help those with the condition.

Colt Molson, 20, a business student at Humber College, has struggled with emotional control and stress for years.

“High stress is a naturally passed down trait in my family and I’ve suffered with depression in the past. It often becomes overwhelming and seems inescapable,” he said.

Ten times more people suffer from depression now than in the 1940s, according to

Along with that spike is a jump in anti-anxiety medication use. reported between 2001 and 2010 there was a 20 per cent increase in the use of prescription drugs to treat psychological disorders in the United States.

But Humber’s Centre for Urban Ecology has developed an alternative to medication.

“Imagine being told that to control your depression or anxiety, you either have to take this drug two times a day or this pill every day or you have to go for a 30-minute walk every day. What would you pick?” centre coordinator Jimmy Vincent said.

That is the inspiration behind the centre’s new Mood Walks initiative.

The walks focus on improving brain capability and mental health through being outside. Vincent said since technology has become such a large part of our lives, people require breaks and need to spend some time outside to let their brains relax.

“The downfall of technology is that, a lot of the time, your brain is working very hard,” he said.

“Texting on your phone is called a direct focus activity,” Vincent said. “Your brain is focusing very hard on doing one small task. It’s stressful on the brain.

“Being in the natural world is called an indirect focus. When you’re outside, there are no rules of what you have to look at. Your mind can wander and your brain isn’t working hard at all. It gives it time to relax,” he said.

Molson said he chalks some of the increase in depression up to his generation spending much more of time indoors.

“I think those of us who spend more time outside are happier because we don’t have time to sit inside and wallow in distress,” Molson said.

“We’re always cooped up, and we’re always inside,” he said. “We never get to experience the world anymore. Nobody hikes. Nobody swims. We can’t do that on a video game or watch a PBS documentary on how we can go outside.”

He said he sees the benefits of the therapy nature can provide.

“I think sometimes being exposed to the outdoors and nature is a good way to reflect and relax because it gives you a wider range of abilities to de-stress.

“You can go to the top of a mountain and just scream and cry, and I’m sure you’ll walk down happier,” Molson said. “You could make friends with a squirrel and tell him all your problems. It doesn’t matter as long as you get it all out.”

Hence, the Centre for Urban Ecology’s new initiative.

“Mood Walks are a great way to get people outside and to realize the importance of the natural world on their mental health,” said Vincent.

Blair Woolley, 21, a third-year York University Psychology student said she believes in the mental benefits of the great outdoors.

“There is a lot of research going on about the benefits of spending time outside on mental health,” Woolley said. “What it comes down to is that being outside gives you vitamin D. That helps control your mood. People who lack vitamin D can typically be more depressed.

“Not getting enough vitamin D from spending time outside can also trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder for people who are prone to it,” she said.

With the end of the semester so close and the holiday season upon us, the next few weeks are going to be busy and full of stress for Humber students.

“Take a break and get outside,” Vincent said. “It doesn’t need to be a hike through the rugged wilderness. It’s as simple as taking a break and taking a walk in the park.”