‘Blooming Good’ Mental Health Therapy

Like many gardeners Gavin McCaber is busy this time of year weeding, watering and generally tending to his plot of land. For Gavin however, gardening is more than just a hobby – for him it is also a therapy. One day a week he has a placement at the Battersea Garden project in London, where for the last five years he has been using therapeutic gardening to help him deal with his schizophrenia. Here, Gavin and others on placements are taught practical skills alongside specially trained staff who can also offer counselling advice. Since he had his first schizophrenic episode as a young PHD student 20 years ago, Gavin has rarely worked.

He said the Battersea project, run by the charity Thrive, has offered him new opportunities of tackling his mental health problems. “There is always the opportunity to talk to staff about personal issues.

“But I guess the focus is on the gardening and it being therapeutic.

“Most of the gardeners, like me, look after a patch of garden of their own and you do get a lot of satisfaction in doing this.

“It is a nice place to work and I think doing this has been one of the most useful things that I have done as far as helping my mental health goes.

“I get a sense of achievement from my gardening and most people can feel that, whether it is from growing tomatoes or bulbs.”

He added that this sense of achievement was important to people like him whose illness had meant they had often had to drop out of things in the past.

Gavin said the work could be very physically demanding, but that people were encouraged to work at their own pace, ensuring it was not too regimented for those with mental health problems.

Now Thrive has been awarded a £32,000 grant by the Mental Health Foundation to look into the benefits of social and therapeutic horticulture for those with mental health problems. Over 24,000 people a week use gardening projects like Gavin’s, and research by Thrive shows that most of these have either learning difficulties or mental health problems.

Richard Jones, a horticultural therapist, said they worked closely with health workers and social services to provide support for those on the placements. He said those using the scheme got a great sense of achievement from growing something. “As part of the scheme we created a herb garden from scratch where everybody has pulled together.

“We have created one of the best herb gardens in London and it is open to the public.

“It is fantastic to grow something and it gives confidence and inspiration.”

Nicola Carruthers, chief executive of Thrive said: “We are extremely excited about this pioneering research.

“We know from experience that gardening has valuable therapeutic benefits, and we urgently want to raise awareness of these among health and social care professionals.”

Jane Harris of the mental health charity Rethink said they also helped support projects like this to aid people with mental health problems. “We also have a couple of projects that do this as well.

“It is giving the people choices about what they want to do. It is not just about giving people drugs.

“It is about asking people what they want. The key is for people to make choices and have empowerment.”