Community Garden Programs Help Those with Mental Illness Thrive
Did you know there is a branch of therapy called ecotherapy? Ecotherapy is any kind of therapy that integrates activity in nature. Horticulture therapy is a growing part of ecotherapy as “the essential components of a community garden program (growing plants, spending time with others in a safe and supportive environment, being active outdoors and bringing home healthy produce harvested from the garden) can contribute to positive mental health outcomes”. Ecotherapy is a technique used in combination with other therapies to help people with disorders like PTSD and anxiety.
Mycobacterium vaccae is a naturally occurring bacteria in soil that has similar properties to antidepressants. It has been found to boost the production of serotonin, one of the chemicals in the brain that makes us happy. Gardeners inhale this bacteria or have topical contact and the positive effects can be felt for up to 3 weeks. In one study, lung cancer patients were injected with this bacteria and they reported less nausea and pain, and overall increased wellbeing. In a follow up study, scientists injected the same bacteria into mice and saw that it stimulated the same nerves that activate serotonin production as Prozac.
The mental health benefits abound from partaking in community gardening. We’re fortunate in Canada in that even the most urban of locations, think Toronto or Vancouver, often have community garden program. The community and garden components each bring different benefits that work amazingly well together. The community aspect means participants are working with other people and building social networks, while the gardening itself helps with reducing stress, increased self-worth, as well as improvements in physical health. The Stop is a community food centre in Toronto that runs community garden programs for local residents. These programs are often targeted at newcomers to the area and seniors, as these are two demographics that are susceptible to social isolation. In a 2012 survey of participants 80% said they made a new friend in the program and 90% felt they belonged to a community at The Stop.
Community gardens are springing up all over Canada, from Sackville, New Brunswick to Lutselk’e, NWT. Now is the time to do a Google search and find out if there is one in your city, you might be surprised!
- Mental Health Benefits of Community Gardening
- Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy
- Is Dirt the New Prozac?
- The Stop: Community Food Centre
- Canada’s Community Gardens