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First Lady Dawn Moore Hikes with Local Students on Global Day of Unplugging to Highlight Nature’s Benefits to Children’s Mental Health

Photo of several people and a dog hiking on a trail in the woods

First Lady Dawn Moore, Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dr. Laura Herrera Scott, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz walk a trail at Patapsco Valley State Park. Photo courtesy Maryland Governor’s Office.

First Lady Dawn Moore today celebrated the Global Day of Unplugging by participating in a hike and yoga exercises with state officials and local students at Patapsco Valley State Park in Halethorpe. Joined by Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz; Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dr. Laura Herrera Scott; mental health and environmental experts; and nearly a dozen Howard County high school students, the first lady and all participants disconnected from their phones to experience nature and learn about how teens and adults can disconnect from the digital world to improve mental health. Now in its 15th year, the Global Day of Unplugging is designed to be a 24-hour day of digital detox from March 1 – 2. 

“Improving the mental health of Maryland’s children is one of my top priorities as first lady,” said First Lady Dawn Moore. “I encourage parents to help their children take time to unplug from the digital world and  explore the world around them, including Maryland’s natural beauty. I am proud to be working in partnership with our state agencies, community organizations, and our young students to help improve the mental health of all Maryland children.” 

At Patapsco Valley State Park, Department of Natural Resources staff led the group on a forest bathing hike along the Grist Mill Trail. Forest bathing, a practice that originated in Japan, is focused on taking in the nature around you and soaking in benefits including decreases in stress and increases in serotonin — a mood-managing chemical associated with happiness. A Department of Natural Resources community stewardship specialist who is certified in forest bathing through the Forest Therapy School, led the hike.

“Improving mental health is also about having fun in nature,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz. “We encourage all Marylanders to find time to hike, swim, bike, picnic, fish, and enjoy all the types of different passive and organized recreational activities made possible by Maryland’s state parks and public lands. The Department of Natural Resources also offers educational resources to schools to help teachers and parents plan nature-based outings and field trips that can create meaningful outdoor experiences for students.”

Photo of several people stretching on a wooden boardwalk in the woods.

Photo by Winn Brewer, Maryland Department of Natural Resources,

After the hike, the first lady took part in a group yoga session in the woods. The session was led by Bonnie Pace, a fitness instructor and nutritionist from Awaken Wellness in Columbia. Nearly a dozen Howard County students, who are part of an environmental program organized by the Howard County Conservancy, joined the yoga session and hike. 

“We have to use every technique we can to improve children’s mental health,” said Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dr. Laura Herrera Scott. “Immersing yourself in nature is one way children and their parents can connect with each other and the world around them. The mental health improvements from these types of activities can have long-lasting positive effects such as improved sleep, decreased levels of stress, increased opportunities for peer engagement, and development of leadership skills. This is why we support programs that incorporate outdoor activities, including our adolescent clubhouses, summer camp programs and equine therapy.”

The Maryland Department of Health’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey examined mental health issues among children and found that more than one-third of middle (37%) and high school (39%) students reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks or more within the past year, with nearly 25 percent of both middle and high school students reporting that their mental health was not good most of the time. A 2019 study conducted by the University of Washington found that connecting with nature is associated with an increase in happiness, subjective well-being, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. 

Maryland Department of Natural Resources education staff provide in-classroom opportunities to connect with nature, professional development programs for teachers to develop lesson plans about Maryland’s environment, and outdoor learning experiences in parks. The department is working to offer more organized activities in its parks to help visitors bond with nature through its Office of Outdoor Recreation.

First Lady Dawn Moore continues to work with the Maryland Department of Health on numerous events to highlight the importance of children’s mental health and participated in the 2023 Children’s Mental Health Matters Campaign in partnership with the Mental Health Association of Maryland. Last week, she joined first ladies from around the nation to discuss the importance of tackling children’s mental health and working in partnership to help all young people.

Photo of large group of people in a park

Photo courtesy Maryland Governor’s Office.