According to a four-year study that examined approximately two million
children under the age of 18, antidepressant use is on the rise in kids, with the fastest
growing segment found to be preschool children aged 0-5 years (Delate, 2004).
While not a substitute for medication, an increasing number of experts are
recognizing the role of nature in enhancing kids’ mental health. It’s easy to see
the effect when you watch children play outside. Kids are different when they’re
outdoors; free of school pressures and harried schedules, they relax and simply
become kids. In fact, according to one study, children’s stress levels fall within
minutes of seeing green spaces, making outside play a simple, no-cost, and time-
efficient antidote for an overstressed child (Kuo, 2004).
Studies now also show that going beyond seeing green spaces to touching them has a
powerful and positive effect. Making direct contact with soil, whether through gardening,
digging for worms, or making mud pies has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and facilitate learning.
In a study by Bristol University, Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was shown
to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, enhancing feelings of well-being, much in
the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise. Interest in the study arose when patients treated with
M. vaccae for another health issue reported increases in their quality of life (Lowry, 2007).
“The typical human probably harbors some
90 trillion microbes. The very fact that you have so many microbes of so many different kinds is what keeps you healthy
most of the time.” - Dr. Mary Ruebush, immunologist and author of Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your