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​Mountain Wellness: 5 Tips on Mental Health From Stacy Bare

We all face mental health struggles at some point - sometimes it's hard to tell which side of the line we are on. Stacy Bare weighs in with some tips on how to keep our minds healthy. | Nic Alegre photo.

For many of us, spending time in the mountains is a great way to keep both the body and mind in a healthy state. Little beats the freedom that comes with a day in the high country - but reality is that a life in the mountains also comes with some tough times. Whether it's an accident involving yourself or a friend, a stress injury from overexposure to a hazardous environment, relationship issues, or literally anything else that makes you feel down, there is always help available. This year, at our International Pro Riders Workshop, Stacy Bare provided us with some guidelines for mental health in the mountains. Bare has lived a life on the edge, including being a US Army veteran of the Iraq War, directing the Sierra Club Outdoors, earning National Geographic’s 2014 Adventurer of the Year award, co-founding the Great Outdoors Lab (a groundbreaking research study documenting the biological and emotional effects of spending time outdoors), and sharing his story in the film Adventure Not War. He is also an accomplished skier, climber, father and husband, and has dealt with drug and alcohol abuse alongside post traumatic stress disorder. He credits the outdoors with saving his life - and wants to share that experience.

Bare has a few tips on mental health for anyone who wants them. TGR believes the time is now for society at large to have an open discussion about mental illness and addiction. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health condition every year while 1 of every 17 adults live with serious mental health illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Roughly 1 in 4 primary care patients suffer from depression while a staggering 14.8 million American adults suffer from major depressive disorder, which is crippling and is the single largest cause of disability for those aged 15-44 in the US, per the American Psychological Association (APA). Despite that, according to the APA, physicians are only able to identify less than one-third of all patients suffering from depression and per NAMI, only 41 percent of all adults in the United States suffering from a mental illness received treatment for it.

Similarly, the numbers for substance abuse disorders in the United States are staggering. According to SAMHSA, more than 21 million Americans suffer from substance abuse disorders each year, with nearly 8 million Americans suffering a co-occurring disorder–both a mental health and substance abuse disorder. Those who suffer from mental health disorders have an exponentially higher rate of substance abuse disorders than the general population. But much like those with mental health disorders, the majority of people suffering from substance abuse disorders don’t receive the treatment they need: A 2013 study by SAMHSA concluded that only 10.9 percent of individuals who needed special treatment for their substance abuse disorders received it and that a full 95 percent of the people who didn’t get treatment they needed felt it was unnecessary.

In other words, everyone fights their own battles, and here are a few things to muse on from Bare - it’s also never too late to seek professional help if you need it.

1. Find Mentors

One of the biggest pieces of advice Bare presented at IPRW was the importance of mentorship. Simply put, it’s really hard to figure everything out on your own. He’s not just talking about things like mountain safety or how to make money in mountain town real estate - he’s talking about finding mentors to help us emotionally and mentally cope with the stress of life. “Mentors have done so much for me in life-mostly, believing in me when I haven't believed in myself, opening doors, working on strategies and steps to move forward, and encouraging me to keep trying-even when failure feels like it has become routine,” says Bare.

Keep in mind, a mentor doesn’t need to be older than you - in fact Bare credits many of his younger peers as mentors. Whether we show it or not, we all feel feelings, and it can be incredibly helpful to get outside perspectives on how to deal with whatever you are facing.

“There are so many things to learn from failure-but I think the single most important thing I've learned through mentorship is that it is a two-way street. The best mentors are also actively seeking to learn and grow from their relationship with you. Mentorship works best when it is a two way street. As much as I encourage people to find mentors, I think it is important to find someone you can mentor-who can also teach you,” he says.

2. Have a Board of Directors

In the same vein as mentorship, Bare has another simple trick. Get yourself a “Board of Directors.” Any successful company is run by a group of people that can weigh in on decisions with different expertise and viewpoints. Approaching a mental health issue can be done in a very similar way - although it’s up to you to take action. Your board of directors can be made up of anyone you trust, whether it's a family member, friend, or someone you maintain a professional relationship with.

It’s not always easy to determine who should play this role in your life. “I've always struggled with this to be honest, but it comes from two things: who are the people who are leading the life I would like to lead, who have values that are lived out, not just talked about-and do they lean into me? You might think someone is really impressive, but if you're chasing them and they're not leaning back into you-why are they on your board? Why do you care what they think if they aren't also actively taking an interest in your life? I'm not saying don't go after someone you think you can learn from, but if they aren't reciprocating or supporting, they aren't worth your time,” Bare says.

Each member can be an “expert” for something else in your life. It’s important to know these people are the ones you can trust with your emotions, secrets, and are there for you. “Find people from a diverse set of life experiences to put on your personal board. You want people to challenge you, not just say yes or agree all the time,” he says.‘

3. Try Not to Compare Yourself to Others - Your Pain is Your Pain

Bare admits that this is definitely one of the harder points in life. It’s natural to compare yourself to others in many aspects of life, and in many cases it can and will help you become a better person. But it’s also important to remember that comparison can simply be unrealistic - not everything is a contest. When it comes to pain, remember that you are the one dealing with it, and just because it might not seem as deep or hurt as much as what others could be experiencing, it’s still real and deserves attention.

It is important to acknowledge that there are other systemic issues at work that may create more pain or trauma for specific social groups-but that even with that, your pain remains your pain. “If that is too far into the weeds, I can understand that, but it's crucial to both acknowledge the systems around us, and that even if we are privileged, it doesn't mean we can't or won't struggle or have to manage trauma and pain in our own lives,” Bare points out.

He adds, “I haven't experienced what a lot of my colleagues and friends have who are part of groups that have received systemic levels of abuse and exploitation-but that doesn't mean that I haven't had a life of my own challenges, or that my privileges have been absolute. I spent years feeling shame that I hadn't somehow suffered enough to feel like I was feeling-but that's BS. Your pain is your pain, find a way through-and that way is going to be easier and better with friends and support.”

4. Develop the Other Parts of You Right Now

This one points to the bigger picture of life. Right now, you might identify as a certain type of person. In mountain communities, it’s easy to label yourself as a climber, a skier, a mountain biker, or none of the above - and it’s easy to lose track of the many other wonderful things life presents. We all tend to be pretty damn good at one thing or the other, but Bare advises that there’s no time like the present to develop those other parts of yourself. Spend most of your time skiing in the winter? Take time on your off days to practice an instrument, learn a new language, or do something you wouldn’t normally do. Besides, it’s really fun to be a total noob at something - and that experience in your brain will make you appreciate getting back to something you’re already good at.

5. Stop and Breathe

Finally, Bare spent a long time working on a scientific study that showed that being outside in nature is actually just really good for you. The study found conclusive evidence that getting outdoors improves physical, mental, and social well-being and that the emotion of awe experienced in nature is an important mechanism driving these effects.

“Everyday, awe more and more is part of my goal. I used to think you could only find awe in these huge adventures miles into the backcountry, but as the climate changes, as less snow falls year to year, I find awe by fully embracing the moment, breathing in where I am, and not worrying about what I can or cannot do tomorrow. Don't waste the good day. I've found a ton of awe in the urban forest canopy and parks in Grand Rapids. I'm lucky to live among so much beauty and so close to the Great Lakes. My six year old daughter helps point out what's beautiful all the time. We need to listen to the little people,” says Bare.

We spend a lot of time moving pretty quickly through nature, whether we’re ripping pow turns, running a ridgeline, slapping berms on our mountain bikes, or simply driving home from the trailhead. When we’re outside, it’s important to stop and breathe for a few moments. Take in what’s around you and experience that powerful feeling of awe - it’s actually what makes nature such good medicine. 

About The Author

stash member Max Ritter

I manage digital content here at TGR, run our gear testing program, and am stoked to be living the dream in the Tetons.

Stacy Bare’s tips on mental health for mountain wellness are valuable not only for adventurers but for everyone seeking a healthier mind. His emphasis on self-care, mindfulness, and seeking professional help when needed are especially important. For those struggling with their mental health and try online therapy session can be a helpful step towards recovery. Seeking help and support can make a significant difference in one’s mental well-being and overall quality of life.

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