Camps prep for campers’ mental health needs

Camp is back: Throughout the country, 33 Camp Fire councils will be hosting day camps and summer activities this year. Twenty-six councils are welcoming kids back to resident (sleep-away) camps, too—a big change from 2020, when the pandemic kept all but three resident camps programs from operating. 

This is very good news. Because kids need camp! 

Why? More and more research is being done to track the effects nature can have on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have shown that time spent in nature is correlated with: 

  • Better health overall
  • Mental well-being
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Strengthened immune systems
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Lower anxiety
  • Improved and calmer moods
  • Boosted resilience
  • Increased experiences of awe
  • Raised levels of life satisfaction
  • Increased connection with others

Despite the huge benefits of hanging out in nature, kids are spending less than 10 minutes a day outdoors—but many, many hours on screen. Four to six for 8 to 12-year-olds and up to 9 hours for teens! One antidote to this inbalance? Camp.

Camp can be a powerful experience, not only because of the hours of outdoor time kids can bank there, but because it teaches outdoor skills and habits that can lead to better mental health in the long-term. And that nature-based healing couldn’t come at a more crucial time.

Just like adults, kids are coming back to camp after a very difficult year and a half. School closures, lack of social interaction, possible financial instability at home, fewer health care touch points…it all takes a toll. By the fall of 2020, 31% of parents reported that their children’s emotional and/or mental health had declined because of the pandemic.  

“The next wave of the pandemic could be a mental health crisis,” says Nikki Roe Cropp, Camp Fire National Headquarters’ Director of Program Effectiveness. “We know that it’s imperative that when kids come back to camp that staff and volunteers are prepared.” 

Nikki says that Camp Fire has been making sure staff and volunteers have the mental health issues training they need. Camp Fire has partnered with On Our Sleeves to get vital mental health resources out to camps around the country and with LEAD (Let’s Empower, Advocate and Do, Inc) to provide trauma-informed care training to camp staff and volunteers. 

LEAD’s mental health education programs for camps include mental health and mental health first aid certifications along with professional development courses for camp professionals. Their programs grew out of need: In 2017, LEAD surveyed camp counselors from a variety of camp settings. 74% said their camps didn’t have adequate mental health resources, and 91% said they thought they’d missed mental health warning signs or symptoms in the campers they served.

LEAD’s camp programs help address this mental health care gap and give camp professionals a toolbox to respond to a wide range of mental health challenges, including ones specific to the camp environment, like homesickness, social media withdrawal and campers who decide to stop taking medications while at camp. In LEAD’s mental health certification, camp staff learn how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis, promote and model self-care and good mental health habits, and how to help campers get the mental health help they need. 

In addition to connecting Camp Fire camps with valuable training opportunities, Nikki says Camp Fire is also taking a cooperative approach to mental health support. “We are being proactive and making sure camps are plugged into their community’s resources,” she says. “Some of our camps have social workers on staff, but we also want camps to have local professionals—like youth mental health organizations or pediatric mental health departments of local hospitals—that they can reach out to, too.” 

In addition, the American Camp Association also runs a 24-hour camp crisis hotline that can help camps find options for mental health support in their area. “We promote that hotline to our camps as well,” Nikki says. 

With the multi-leveled and proactive preparation, Camp Fire’s camps are ready to respond to campers’ mental health needs this summer—and give them all the access to nature’s benefits that they can handle! 

July 1, 2021

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