May 11-17 is Mental Health Awareness week!

At WEN we believe that mental health is crucially important, especially for women. The numbers of men and women affected by mental health problems tend to be about the same, however, there are a number of factors affecting women’s mental health that differ from those affecting men. Dealing with physical or mental abuse, living in poverty or having to juggle the different roles of mother, partner and carer as well as having demanding careers can all be factors that impact mental health in women and put them at risk of developing problems. 1 in 4 women experience depression at some point in their lives, compared to 1 in 15 men. Postnatal depression is also a huge issue, affecting between 8 and 15% of women, and yet is often grossly under represented in the media, and, subsequently under treated.

Gardening has been proven to help reduce the symptoms of many mental health problems. The relaxing element can help clear the mind and reduce anxiety and stress. It also serves as a distraction from the often exhausting, consuming effects of mental ill health. In fact, even just looking at a garden can give a positive boost!

At WEN, we have experienced firsthand the positive impact gardening can have on those suffering from mental health problems. Last year we ran a ‘Grow Your Own’ programme at I.R.I.E Mind centre in Homerton, part of City and Hackney Mind, which seeks to help and empower people struggling with mental illnesses.

I.R.I.E Mind garden before (June 2013)

I.R.I.E Mind garden before (June 2013)

WEN helped the centre set up a community food growing project and ran a weekly gardening club for patients with chronic mental ill health throughout 2014. The programme included practical workshops on planting different types of food and verbal workshops intended to promote the beneficial mental effects of gardening as a group. The participants were also taught about the stages of planting and growing, thinning and transplanting and annual, perenial and biennial plants, so that they can continue to use the skills they learnt in the future once they’ve left I.R.I.E Mind. Shane Collins, assistant clinical lead at I.R.I.E Mind, said that the programme ‘undoubtedly benefitted [patients'] overall sense of mental well-being. The majority of our clients live with severe and complex mental health needs and we have been amazed at the way in which the weekly Grow Your Own group has engaged our service users and contributed to an overall package that promoted recovery and mental well-being.’

I.R.I.E Mind garden after (October 2014)

I.R.I.E Mind garden after (October 2014)

The feedback we received from the participants was really encouraging, and suggested that the programme had had a very positive impact. They noted that they found working in the gardens theraputic and enjoyed the companionship from working as part of a team. The programme was so successful that it was rewarded Bronze in Hackney in Boom’s Best Community Food Growing Space 2014!

This year Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on Mindfulness, which means focusing on the present moment without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It can be practiced in a number of different ways, from going on a long walk and only concentrating on the scenery to listening to music and focusing on nothing but the melody. Gardening is another perfect way to practice mindfulness: doing something seemingly monotonous such as weeding or sowing seeds can actually allow you to clear your mind of worries and hugely benefit your mental state.

Building on from the success of the project at I.R.I.E Mind, we are currently working with Hopetown Women’s Hostel, a centre which helps women who have suffered domestic violence, homelessness or alcohol and substance abuse. We have worked with the women planting herbs, and plan to contine working with Hopetown for the foreseeable future. This is part of our larger holistic programme of therapeutic horticulture for vulnerable women living in hostels, refuges or shelters across London. We are working with these women in our ‘Soil Sisters’ Network  to provide both the food and therapy gained from gardening.

Herbs harvested at Hopetown Hostel

Herbs harvested at Hopetown Hostel

Herbs growing at Hopetown Hostel

Herbs growing at Hopetown Hostel