Benefits for Mental Health

A plot holders story

When I first took on my allotment I was unemployed and living in a small flat with no outdoor space. I didn’t have any serious mental health problems but I was slightly depressed at my situation, feeling a directionless and without focus.

I had recurring issues in my head that kept going round and round. I needed to escape from that cycle and find something to focus on. I also felt a deep urge to reconnect with nature.

I got an allotment. The plot was overgrown with brambles, nettles and couch grass, but it was a little oasis of nature very close to the city centre.  It presented me with a challenge, a physical as well as a mental challenge, a project I could really get my teeth into.

“It’s a place I could go and relax even if I was digging. I did not need to take any anti- depressants. I was on 150 grams a day, I hope this answers the question”

Bramble roots go deep, and you have to remove the whole thing or else it will grow back! One day while I was battling with a particularly stubborn bramble root I was struck by the thought that this bramble root represented some kind of blockage in my head. It became a metaphor for my mental issues.  I nearly gave up a few times.

Stubborn, spiky, in the dark mud.  I fought for ages with this huge root. The world and its problems became faint and I was entirely focused on my battle with this bramble.

When I finally removed it I felt a huge sense of relief, both physically and  mentally, as if I had actually removed some kind of blockage in my mind.  I felt positive, as if I was moving, getting somewhere, battling against and changing my reality. I started on another bramble patch.  It seemed like I was removing brambles from my brain! I had many more brambles to take out and each one produced the same sense of relief and progress.

I thought this process was metaphorical, and indeed it is..  but later I discovered that there is actual scientific evidence that exposure to the naturally occurring microbes in dirt may actually act as an anti-depressant.

I found an article online. Is dirt the new Prozac?

A bacteria found in soil called “Mycobacterium vaccae”  has been found to effect the same neurons as Prozac, offering people a natural lift in mood. There are scientists who believe that exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae may work as an antidepressant because it stimulates the generation of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

Digging and working the soil up close, the smell of the broken soil.. getting your hands dirty, exposes you to this bacterium. The mix of the actual physical process of removing obstacles and perhaps the effect of these microbes presented me with the best ‘well being’ therapy I had ever encountered.

“Having an allotment has helped me immensely with depression and has brought purpose and much pleasure to my life”

Once I had removed the brambles from my plot I felt clearer in my head. I had made a tangible difference. I had improved my situation and the situation of the plot. The feeling that I could determine my situation carried on into my real life. I found work, eventually started my own business and have now been in full time work for 12 years. To a large degree, working the plot helped me turn my life around.

When you include the other therapeutic benefits that working an allotment provides, allomenteering begins to look like a panacea for many of today’s ills, both physical and mental.  Most importantly It connects us to nature.  It takes us away from walls and concrete, and draws us into interacting with nature.

When you sew a seed you start a journey. You start to manage a mini life cycle. You commit to a process that may take many weeks to complete.  You are looking after another delicate life form, protecting, feeding and nurturing it over time, and watching its progress, which is all dependent on your input and continuing focus.

You are taught;

Attention:
watching the detail, spotting problems

Protection:
Protect your plants from predators, protect yourself from harm

Patience:
you can’t rush nature, everything happens at its own speed, growing and healing.

Commitment:
The plants won’t grow without your continued help

Resilience:
You will encounter failure. Slugs and snails teach resilience. You just sometimes have to accept loss, get up and go again.

Energy and Focus bring results:
You get out what you put in.

Self Determination:
Growing just a little bit of your own food gives a sense of self sufficiency, independence and self determination. I did this. I grew this. There is nothing as emotionally satisfying and empowering as a wheelbarrow of your own grown spuds.

Being in nature good… immersing and interacting is even better.
Growing food is the ultimate interaction with nature.

92% of plot holders either agreed or strongly agreed that allotments improved their mental health or provided stress relief.
53 % strongly agreed and 39% agreed. Though not surprising this is a staggering endorsement of the mental health benefits that growing food brings.

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