Green therapy: How gardening is helping to fight depression | Daily News

Green therapy: How gardening is helping to fight depression

Sydenham Garden feels out of step with its surroundings in urban south London. Fringed by houses on most sides, with a school on its doorstep, it is hard to imagine that this small patch of green space is bringing a new lease of life to people struggling with their mental health.

The site, run by the Sydenham Garden charity trust, is just under an acre and boasts a wellbeing centre with gardens, a nature reserve and activity rooms. Therapeutic gardening sessions are held weekly, and are run by experienced staff, who are in turn supported by a team of volunteers.

Christine Dow, 63, was originally referred to the garden by her GP to help overcome her depression. After a year of “green” therapy, she became a volunteer; for the past decade she has spent a few hours every week supporting others referred to the project.

“I’ve lived in Sydenham for 42 years and my husband was born here, but we never realised the garden was here,” she says.

“My GP referred me to the garden years ago when I had depression. It was quite mild, but he thought gardening would be good for me. He was right. I came here for a year and saw all the seasons change,” she recalls. “It’s an oasis of calm. You can come here and, for however long you are here, the outside world stays outside.”

During 2017-2018, Sydenham Garden received 313 patient referrals from health professionals. A typical referral will be between six and 12 months. “I know from our stats that people are going to get as good mental health benefits from us as talking therapies,” says Sydenham Garden director Tom Gallagher. “On top of that, you can also get physical, social and physiological benefits from gardening.”

GPs are keen to adopt ‘social prescribing’ on the NHS as a form of mental health treatment

The majority of people referred will score in the low wellbeing category – according to the Warwick-Edinburgh scale – when starting, but score in the moderate wellbeing category upon completion.

Sydenham Garden is part of a growing movement devoted to increasing the role that gardening and other forms of “green” therapy can play in patient recovery and rehabilitation settings.

It is one of the 1,500 organisations signed up to Growing Health, a national scheme set up seven years ago by the charity Garden Organic and the membership organisation Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming.

“Gardening is not for everyone,” says Maria Devereaux, a project officer at Sustain. “But, increasingly now, we’ve got evidence that even people who aren’t gardeners are able to reap the benefits of being outside, working with nature and all the things that come with it.”

Growing Health’s original remit was to evaluate research into how gardening can impact on health, but it also set out to discover how food growing and other green projects could work more closely with the health service.

From the evidence it collated, it found that simply viewing a green space through a window can help people relax and reduce stress levels. Other evidence confirmed that the physical activity of gardening can improve mental wellbeing.

Growing Health is also keen to spread best practice by publishing case studies illustrating how organisations got to where they are, and how they forged links with other services.

“Collating all that information together [means that] other projects can use it to work with the health service,” says Devereaux.

GPs have been keen for years to adopt various forms of “social prescribing” – referring patients to non-clinical activities in a bid to improve their physical or mental health, says Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs.

“GPs and our teams will see over a million patients today across the country, and for some of them, the underlying reason they are visiting their GP is not principally medical,” she says. But it is only recently that the social prescribing option has been taken more seriously.

“Some people might mock the idea of recommending a gardening group or exercise class to patients, but learning new skills, meeting people and being active can have a really positive impact on a patient’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing,” says Stokes-Lampard.

Devereaux agrees: “It’s an exciting time; there are a lot of gardens out there and it’s about accessing those for people’s wellbeing.




Add new comment