Case Study: Therapeutic Gardening Helps Alleviate Severe Mental Health Problems
I read the story in The Guardian of a woman who we’ll call Fatu Mangeh (not her real name),who had been raped and tortured during the civil war in Sierra Leone:
- Her parents and family were killed (only she and her 2-year old daughter survived)
- She was lured to the UK by a man who promised to marry her, but abandoned her
- She was destitute, having suicidal thoughts, and depressed.
Eventually met a woman from Sierra Leone who helped her and got her connected with a General Practitioner who sent her to Maudsley hospital where she was diagnosed with depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No big surprise there. What was surprising was the treatment that was prescribed:
Communal gardening sessions run by a horticultural therapist and clinical psychologist.
The result for Fatu? She spoke about research that shows that just looking at pictures of plants lowers your blood pressure or has calming effects, plus the physical health aspects of moving and being active in a more gentle way – but it was the social aspect of forming a community really had a positive impact on her:
“When I first went, I was shy. I didn’t trust anyone and was unable to open up to people. Gradually, I saw other clients coming in with the same problems so I was able to speak to them because we are all in the same boat ... This motivates me, makes me become strong. Before I didn’t talk to people, I kept to myself. I’ve made friends and we are like a community, a family.”
She still struggles with PTSD, she still experiences flashbacks and has bad days when she can’t get out of bed, and tears stream down her face. But, as she says, “It changes me ... I have really bad days when it’s difficult for me to get up. I’m tearful. But coming here, I feel calmer and active. We have fun.”
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Brad Smith Associates, Inc. is a mold-breaking exterior planning and design firm, landscape architects and planners in the business of Enhancing Wellbeing through the timeless design of sustainable outdoor spaces.
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