We at GIY are acutely aware of the importance of initiatives such as Mental Health Week in raising awareness, challenging stigma and promoting alternatives to the clinical recovery model. As part of Mental Health Week 2018, and in conjunction with Healthy Ireland, this week I delivered two workshops in Portlaoise and Mountrath Libraries in Co Laois. People of all ages, abilities, and levels of experience in growing their own food, gathered around long rows of tables, surrounded by books. It was the perfect setting to explore some of the benefits associated with gardening and horticultural activities. Many of the benefits voiced, tie in with key elements of a recovery model.
From the perspective of a personal recovery-orientated approach to mental ill-health, the combined elements of hope, listening, choice, partnership and social inclusion can play an important part in the recovery process. An Irish research study in 2010 to gather perspectives of people with a mental health condition, described recovery as a process of ‘reconnecting with life’.
As our conversation wove its way between slug damage, misshapen carrots and sowing oriental greens for winter, one woman spoke of the joys of germination.
“You get to see the seeds coming up. It gives you hope”
“Your heart gets lifted”, said another.
“The colours. They lift you”
Participants were shown how to take lemon geranium cuttings, and as pots were handed around, and the geranium leaves and stems gently passed from one to the other, the citrus smell spread throughout the libraries.
“When you’re gardening with people, you have a shared experience. Shared stories. Memories” one woman commented.
“It’s open to all ages and abilities”
“It breaks down barriers”
“It helps me with my anxiety”
All too often, people with mental health difficulties are passive recipients of treatment and care. The recovery principle emphasises the active role that a person with a mental health condition plays in his or her own recovery.
In delivering workshops and horticultural programme, it is this focus on promoting the active and equal participation of participants that underpins my approach. Learning is at the heart of this process, and it is through learning that we grow. In the words of Paulo Freire
“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world and with each other”
If you would like to learn more about the use horticulture with groups to promote mental well-being — click here for more details
I will also be delivering a Thrive-accredited course in using horticulture to work with children and young people in GROW HQ - click here for more details