Gardening Embraced as Treatment for Range of Mental Illnesses

The rise of gardening as a means of treating depression, anxiety, and more serious conditions like paranoid schizophrenia is starting to be studied by scientists.

Recovering from depression by gardening might sound too good to be true, but spending time in a garden is being prescribed as a therapy for numerous mental health problems. The idea is simple; instead of drugs, people who suffer from mental illnesses like depression can get better while they garden in a community setting.

There are different names for these new ways of treating chronic mental illnesses. Some call them “green prescriptions”, and they are starting to gain a reputation for creating a change for the better.

The idea of a social prescription isn’t new. Community activities have been used for decades in treating many forms of mental illness, but the rise of gardening as a means of treating depression, anxiety, and more serious conditions like paranoid schizophrenia is starting to be studied by scientists.

The Green Prescription Gets Results

Some new treatment ideas are as simple as taking a walk in nature. On the island of Shetland residents are replacing drugs with nature walks. Residents of the island who suffer from depression and anxiety are being prescribed a natural therapy that gets them out in nature and moving.

Research into these kinds of treatments shows they are effective for many patients, and they also reduce the demand for care on the NHS. Unlike drugs, natural therapeutic options create a positive feedback loop that not only reduces stress, depression, or anxiety, it also creates new ways of feeling healthy.

People who are referred to a community garden are likely to create new positive social relationships, and do more physical activity. The act of gardening makes people more active. People who begin to work at a community garden also tend to bike or walk to the garden, and many start eating fresh, healthy produce from the garden.

A Home in Nature with a Supportive Community

Researchers have found that people who start working in shared gardens pick up some pretty healthy habits. Community gardens tend to focus on producing fresh veggies that are consumed by the gardeners, who may not have been getting the same kind of diet before starting work in that setting.

The Sydenham Garden charity trust operates a one acre garden in South London, and it has been creating positive results for decades. According to an article the Guardian published earlier this year, people who come to Sydenham for help often stay because they like the community atmosphere.

After being referred to Sydenham by her GP, Christine Dow, 63, decided to stay on as a volunteer. She commented to the Guardian that:

“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…It’s an oasis of calm. You can come here and, for however long you are here, the outside world stays outside.”

Sydenham Garden received more than 300 referrals between 2017 and 2018, and they have created an environment that is conducive to both recovery, and maintaining good health.

Growing Happier People

Hull University’s Centre for Systems Studies is working to understand why community gardening can be so helpful to people who suffer from a range of mental illnesses. The Centre is working with  Rainbow Community Garden in Hull, which has a network of connections to local schools, mental health professionals, and a veterans’ association.

The goal of a year long study by the Centre for Systems Studies is to learn why community gardens are helpful for a variety of problems, and to gain more insight into how the garden functions at a social level.

Mikloth Bond, who is a member of the community at Sydenham Garden, as well as a paranoid schizophrenic, told an interviewer that:

“When you are gardening you get very involved, because of all the elements and the seasons. You can’t run away from it; you can’t feel superior. And by watching things grow, you realise that it isn’t always the fault of the plant if things don’t work – it’s about the seasons and the weather. It’s the same with mental health issues: it’s not always your fault.”

Gardening can help people who have serious depression & other mental illness and it can also be useful for busy people who need to find a way to relax.

Growing great food is about more then eating, it can be a way to find what is truly valuable in life!


Nicholas Say was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his family would go to the farmers' market every weekend. He loves to garden and spent many years in South America in vegetable gardens that he owned. Nicholas thinks that plants are wonderful creatures that can give us all so much. Contact him at


  1. daniele Robbers Reply

    I live in a poverty filled area I myself am way bellow the poverty line. I have PTSD and occasionally depression. I have long be searching for a way help my community with both the high amount of mental illness, homelessness, and poverty related issues and while I can do it all with a food share garden park I do hope one day I can build this up as a community project. Thank you for adding another layer of information to my asperations.

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