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Strengthen Your Mental Health by Planting a Garden This Earth Day!

As many of you know, Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd each year. In fact, this year marks the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day. While there are many different ways to celebrate Earth Day, and hundreds of “go green” initiatives that you can get involved in, I wanted to find a way to celebrate Earth Day that would also benefit your mental health.

Whether to plant a flower bed, start a vegetable garden, or pull up weeds, many of us find gardening to be a centering and life-affirming activity. But what if the joys of gardening could be harnessed as a therapeutic tool?

I came across an article from NPR (The Salt) about how gardening is being used in a variety of different environments to help heal troubled minds. Whether it is at prison yards, retirement or veteran homes or in youth programs, the use of horticultural therapy is starting to grow (pun intended!).

The Benefits of Horticulture Therapy – Past & Present

At Carrier Clinic®, we have several gardens throughout the facility. Our older adult patients help plant and grow vegetables that they are able to eat; and the adolescents at our East Mountain School have three vegetable beds that they prepare, plant and harvest every year.

According to the NPR article, “much of the science behind just how gardening affects the mind and brain still remains a mystery. What scientists do know is that gardening reduces stress and calms the nerves. It decreases cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in stress response.”

Additionally, “horticulture therapy dates back to Socrates, but it didn’t become a scientific pursuit until the 18th century. That’s when Benjamin Rush, a psychiatrist, and Declaration of Independence cosignatory, began documenting how gardening benefited his mentally ill patients.”

Since our inception in 1910 as the Belle Mead Farm Colony and Sanatorium, we have seen the benefits of having patients work on the farm. Indeed, according to Farm Colony owner J. J. Kindred, “the first charter of 1910 was to produce, purchase, sell and deal in milk, butter, eggs, and other food, farm, and dairy products.”

Even then we saw how beneficial it was for our patients to raise livestock and grow and harvest their own vegetables. It calmed them, gave them purpose and a sense of self-worth, and helped them earn money that directly benefited their therapeutic treatment.

As part of a holistic treatment plan including traditional therapies, supporting therapies, and medication where indicated, therapeutic gardening can be a valuable tool in improving mental, physical and emotional health. The results can be beautiful!

So this Earth Day, whether you grow vegetables, plant a fruit tree, or a beautiful flower garden, do a little something that will benefit the environment and your mental health.

Thanks for reading!

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