The forest floor is piled with golden leaves. Overhead, a crow squawks and wind rustles through a nearby hemlock grove. A dozen people stand together, inhaling fresh air and peering up through bare maples as the sun peeks through a crack in the slate sky.
This may not be the scene most people imagine when they think of a mental health support group. But the gathering, on a recent autumn morning, is one of the regular hikes organized by the York Region and South Simcoe branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
It’s part of a province-wide initiative launched this summer called Mood Walks, which harness nature’s healing powers to help those with mental illness.
“This is the highlight of my week,” says Susan Callon, 59, of Markham, who has come on almost every walk since they began last June and considers it an important part of her recovery from depression and anxiety.
“Once I get here, my anxiety goes right down to zero,” says Callon, also a volunteer with CMHA.
“It gives me the opportunity to be present here, right now, instead of having what they call ‘the monkey mind.’ I find myself feeling more at ease and more relaxed and refreshed afterwards.”
By the time the two-hour hike is over, she’ll have walked almost six kilometres.
Growing evidence of how green space benefits mental health inspired the CMHA’s Ontario chapter to launch Mood Walks in partnership with Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario, funded by a $150,000 provincial grant.