Article: Hiking as part of my mental health rehabilitation

Spotlight On Mental Health

Hi, my name is Mike and I would like to share my story about how a hiking group offered through my Mental Health and Substance Use Team has helped shaped my recovery journey and given my life more meaning. 

Three years ago I joined a hiking group offered by the Recreation Therapist (RecT) and Occupational Therapist (OT) at the South Mental Health and Substance Use team (SMHSU) that I have been attending since 2003. Aside from weekly hikes, I was looking forward to being outdoors, meeting new people and getting in some exercise. The group participated in hikes throughout Vancouver including Lynn Loop, Quarry Rock, Whyte Lake, and Lighthouse Park led by the rehab staff. The scenery was phenomenal and I met some people who, little did I know, would become long term friends.

When the group ended, several members expressed an interest in keeping it going which is when we were introduced to the “Get Set and Connect” program with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). A Leisure and Volunteer Access Coach met with us at the team and helped us to transition our “team based” hiking group into a “community based” group. Because we felt a need for more programming on weekends, we decided to make our hiking group on a Saturday which gave me something to look forward to on the weekend.

In the beginning, one of the other group members took on the leadership role of this group which we were all very grateful for. However, it wasn’t soon after, that I was approached and encouraged to take on the leadership role for this group.  At first I was nervous, as I had never had more of a leadership role in a group before but as time passed I become more comfortable and confident in this role and started to enjoy it. I continued to meet new people and felt good about being able to perform the duties required to help keep this group going over the years.

Today, almost four years later, we have a dedicated group of people that come together every week to go hiking. Our group continues to be supported by a Leisure and Volunteer Access Coach who helps us with transit routes to navigate the Lower Mainland and access some beautiful hikes; our favourite being Lighthouse Park. The views are breathtaking and being outdoors gives me a sense of freedom like no other.

What is interesting to me is the way this group has evolved.  Now, when we get rained out (which is often the case in Vancouver), we do something else, like board games, bowling, movies or dining. The fact is, our group has become less about “hiking” per say and more about creating a social network of people who feel comfortable, safe and connected with each other.

Moving forward, I plan to stay involved with hiking. I am looking forward to trying some new hikes this year and staying connected to this great group of people.

– Written by Mike