New Study: Outdoor Experiences Improve Veterans’ Mental Health


Ian Brickey: (202) 675-6270,

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Sierra Club and researchers at the University of Utah have published a new study linking exposure to nature and improvements to veterans’ mental health. 

The study, led by Dr. Joanna Bettmann Schaefer of the University of Utah in collaboration with Lt. Col. (ret.) Aaron Leonard of Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program, identified improvements in overall psychological wellbeing for veterans immediately following time spent on nature trips. These results align with similar research among non-veteran populations.

“This study illuminates what we’ve known anecdotally for a long time -- spending time in nature improves your mental health,” Leonard said. “For veterans working to manage service-related trauma, these findings lay out a path with important benefits.”

The study examined 56 subjects participating in three-day nature trips. Participants were assessed for a variety of mental health factors before and after the trips, including depression, anxiety, stress, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance misuse, and suicidality. The study results showed a significant reduction in troubling mental health symptoms immediately after the trips.

“Nature-based interventions show important promise as places in which veterans can receive peer support, as well as potentially experience mental health symptom reduction,” Dr. Schaefer said. “Nature-based programs are wonderful alternatives to traditional treatment environments for veterans who want to feel better, but may have internalized stigma related to mental treatment in traditional clinic settings.”

In recent years, mental health has become an increasingly significant issue for veterans, with more than one-third of veterans who enter Veterans Affairs services receiving medical diagnoses related to mental health. Skepticism of therapy and stigma are significant barriers for veterans with mental health issues. These results show promise in addressing veterans’ mental health needs that avoids the stigma associated with traditional treatments. 

“These programs may be ideal to provide social support for veterans and improve mental health,” Leonard said. “We hope these results lead to policy changes that make it easier for all veterans to find respite and healing in the outdoors.”

The study appears in the Journal of Experiential Education. Full copies are available upon request.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit