Forest Therapy Lowers Depression In Patients With Alcoholism

Shruti Baikerikar

(B.E. Biotechnology, PG Clinical Research)
Independent Researcher, Health Writer & Founder of Salubrainous [Full Bio]

forest therapy lowers depression in alcoholism

Forest therapy or ‘forest bathing’ or ‘Shirin-Yoku’ is a therapy that involves visiting the forest or engaging in therapeutic activities in the forest to improve one’s health.

Individuals living in an urban environment have limited access to nature which leaves them deprived of the potential benefits of nature therapy.

Shirin-Yoku is a type of Nature therapy and a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature mindfully.

Nature therapy primarily involves exposure to natural stimuli that provides physiological relaxation and boosts a weakened immune system. [1]

Exposure to natural environments engages all our five senses and relaxes our fight or flight system bringing about a heightened state of awareness that induces relaxation.

Research suggests that forest therapy may benefit the following aspects of health [2] :

  • Immune system
  • Heart health
  • Respiratory system
  • Mental health
  • Mental relaxation
  • Increase in gratitude and selflessness

People interacting and living in green spaces and natural environments feel more energetic and experience improvement in overall health.

With the increasing awareness of the psychological benefits of forest therapy, researchers are looking forward to utilising it as an adjunct therapy for those dealing with chronic pain, stress, depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety can occur as co-existing conditions with alcohol addiction or as a precursor to the condition. [3] [4]

Keeping in mind the psychologically restorative effects of exposure to forest environments, Shin and colleagues conducted a study to examine the effects of forest therapy on depression in patients with alcoholism.

They hypothesized that since a forest environment can capture one’s attention and engage one’ senses, it can potentially induce relaxation and relieve depressive symptoms in patients with alcohol addiction.

This study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Forest Resources, Chungbuk National University, Korea.

How was the study conducted?

92 patients with alcohol addiction were recruited for the study. They were assigned to detoxification treatment program at Korean Alcohol Research Center in Chungbuk Province, South Korea.

Only those who had undergone successful detoxification and were not taking any treatments for mental health proceeded with the study.

47 patients were assigned to the treatment group and 45 were assigned to the control group.

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) was used to determine the level of depressive symptoms in patients with alcohol addiction. It is a scale which involves self-reporting on 21 measures.

Score on this scale could range from 0 (no depression) to 63 (high depression).

The treatment involved a 9-day healing camp at Saneum Recreational Forest in South Korea. It is located in Kyungggi Province, about 80 km away from Seoul.

Three treatment sessions were provided:

  • First treatment lasted for 3 days that involved interacting with nature
  • Second treatment lasted for 3 days that involved challenging tasks like mountaineering, trekking etc.
  • Third treatment lasted for 3 days which involved introspection (meditation, counselling in the forest environment)

The Korean Version of Beck’s Depression Inventory was provided before and at the end of the camp to compare the effects of forest therapy.

Statistical analysis of the data was conducted.

What were the results of the study?

The mean age of the participants was 45 years; 84 males and 8 females participated in the study.

The BDI scores at baseline were 15.35 for the treatment group and 15.33 for the control group. According to the clinical criteria in Korea, BDI scores of 14-15 indicate moderate depression.

After the forest therapy, BDI score was 5.52 for the treatment group and 15.36 for the control group. A score of 5.52 is interpreted as no depression in Korea.

Also, patients in the treatment group had less difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep compared to those in the control group.

Patients in their 40s showed the highest improvement in depression scores followed by those in their 30s and 50s.

Patients with higher levels of depression at baseline showed better improvement than those who had mild depression at the start of the study.

What is the significance of the results?

Results of the study demonstrated that forest therapy has the potential to ameliorate depressive symptoms in patients with alcohol addiction.

Researchers highlight that forests serve as an excellent refuge or escape for man-made and artificial constructions. It induces feelings of relaxation, calmness, happiness and excitement.

Such an environment is conducive for one to introspect and focus on one’s personal matters. This provides some clarity on perceived issues that can help alleviate depressive symptoms.

Multiple research studies have noted that forest therapy and exposure to nature improves mood, relieves stress, boosts energy levels, produces positive feelings and has a restorative action on our mental health. [5] [6]

Studies involving patients with depressive disorders have noted that forest therapy induces relaxation by influencing our parasympathetic system (our fight or flight system).

It lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels (a hormone that participates in stress response) and relieves feelings of anger, confusion, fatigue and anxiety. [7] [8]

Conclusion

This preliminary study by Shin et al. has demonstrated that forest therapy relieves depressive symptoms in patients with alcohol addiction who have undergone detoxification.

In this study forest therapy involved interaction with nature, physical activities such as trekking and introspection (meditation).

Such activities had a restorative action on the mental health of the patients and helped improve sleep.

Patients on the road to recovery from alcohol addiction can consider participating in therapeutic activities and camping in the forest environment to bolster their mental health.

Read full research paper here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258312/

Reference:

Shin, Won Sop, Chang Seob Shin, and Poung Sik Yeoun. “The Influence of Forest Therapy Camp on Depression in Alcoholics.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 17.1 (2012): 73–76. PMC. Web. 5 Aug. 2018.

Research shows that forest therapy (Shirin-Yoku or forest bathing) lowers depression in patients with alcohol addiction.

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