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Is a Nature Deficit Depressing kids?

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A new study by John Guthman, PhD, director of counseling services at Hofstra University, uncovered more severe depression among college students. In 2009, 41% of students counseled at his college were diagnosed with moderate or severe depression, compared to 34% in 1997. Fewer were suicidal, however, perhaps due to improved services or perhaps because being surrounded by other depressed people makes you feel less alone.

Future Shocked?

Dr Guthman opines that the reason more students have more severe depressive symptoms is that more of them are being diagnosed with depression before coming to college. Doesn’t that just put off the real question: Why are more kids depressed?

Maybe it’s future shock. In the early 1970s, in his book Future Shock, futurist Alvin Toffler predicted we would soon enter a state of change so rapid that we would flip out and all go crazy.

The accelerated rate of technological and social change will overwhelm people, leaving them disconnected and suffering from ‘shattering stress and disorientation’ – future shocked.

The element of change unique to the 21st century is the loss of nature.


I’ve read several articles suggesting that today’s moms and dad’s worry over the contrast between their own childhood experiences of summers spent outdoors playing with the wired lives of 21st century kids. Writer Richard Louv expands on this thought with an intriguing diagnosis: Nature deficit disorder.

“As children’s connections to nature diminish and the social, psychological, and spiritual implications become apparent, new research shows that nature can offer powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder.” from LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS : SAVING OUR CHILDREN FROM NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER

As a primary care doc, I find this idea of a nature deficit disorder fascinating because I believe we can’t be healthy in a completely artificial environment, Yet decade after decade, we continue to celebrate the fabrication of an increasingly unnatural world.

When TV chef and child-health activist Jamie Oliver showed a potatoe and a tomatoe to room full of first graders and asked “Does anyone know what this is?” there was silence. Given kids’ extreme disconnection from all things natural, I am not at all surprised that more kids are sick and depressed than ever before. The cure for this societal depression is not new antidepressants, counseling, or a better Sony Wii. It’s a prescription for a daily dose of nature.

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Dr. Cate

With over two decades of clinical experience and expertise in genetic and biochemical research, Dr. Cate can help you to reverse metabolic disease and reshape your body.

3 Comments

Dana

May 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I am not sure why munching on dolphin meat while watching dolphins is any worse than eating a chicken leg while watching the chickens scratch in your backyard. I think it’s more pertinent that our society has evolved to serve machines rather than serve us. What gets in the way of my daughter and I enjoying the outdoors more is all the mechanical risks we face along the way. We live on a high-traffic road and not close enough to a city park to just walk to it. Cars and roads are more important than we are.

Bruce McNulty, Citrus Heights CA

August 31, 2010 at 7:22 am

I definitely agree with Ruth’s insights about Dr. Kate’s article. But I wonder why the article doesn’t mention how, exactly, 7 billion people-or their kids, I should say-are supposed to get access to nature when nature’s almost completely destroyed.

I just saw the movie The Cove where, in Japan, kids can watch captured and trained dolphins in a Sea World-type exhibition while munching on dolphin meat! At the same time! Isn’t that nice? Does that count as access to nature?

Anyway, I really like the article. I just don’t know how parents are supposed to get their kid into nature when nature’s pretty much gone already.

Last thought: I also have both Deep Nutrition and Food Rules and they are my food Bibles!

Ruth M

August 20, 2010 at 4:08 am

It’s amazing how 400 years of a reductionist and mechanized view of the world has resulted in our species becoming almost completely disconnected from nature, at least consciously. I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book by deep ecologist Stephen Harrod Buhner, “The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth”, which speaks to the importance of whole systems thinking. I’m only a few pages into another one of his books, but it appears to be just as fascinating: “The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature”.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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