This week is National Schizophrenia Awareness Week so we thought it was timely for us to discuss the benefits of gardening for alleviating the symptoms of schizophrenia.
But what exactly is schizophrenia?
Many myths surround this condition with the most common myth being that individuals suffer from multiple personality disorder. This is not the case. Multiple personality disorder is a separate condition.
Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder that the affects the normal function of the brain. It interferes with a person’s ability to think, feel and act.
Some of the symptoms of this condition include:
- Thought disorder
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of motivation
- ‘Blunted’ emotions
- Inappropriate responses
- Impaired thinking and memory, and
- Lack of insight.
Not all individuals living with schizophrenia have all of the symptoms and for some people symptoms appear only for short periods or episodes. However, for most living with schizophrenia, it is a chronic condition.
In Australia, it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people are afflicted with schizophrenia, with onset usually beginning in late adolescence or early adulthood.
The traditional treatment options for schizophrenia centre around hospital visits during periods of intense episodes, medication and rehabilitation. Whilst anti-psychotic medications are effective for some individuals and allow them to lead full and productive lives by stabilising the symptoms, there is no known cure for the disease.
There is evidence, however, that gardening and horticultural therapy can assist those living with schizophrenia to manage their symptoms and improve their health outcomes.
A study conducted by Son et al (2004) looked at the effects of horticultural therapy activities on the symptoms of those living with schizophrenia. The effects of the therapies were measured against a control group at three separate points: before the therapies, at the mid-point of the therapies and after the 5 month course of therapies had been complete.
The results were extremely encouraging. The researchers found that measures of self-esteem and relationship change were unaltered in the control group but for the group undergoing therapy these areas had improved significantly. The group undergoing the horticultural therapies also had improved in both the degree and substance of their conversation. Indicators of interpersonal sensitivity, as well as reduction in levels of depression and anxiety were also considerably improved.
Additionally, patients who underwent the horticultural therapies improved the degree of their social participation, had higher levels of self-esteem and an improved sense of identity. All these findings are extremely important for those living with schizophrenia, particularly as social isolation is one of the most debilitating aspects of the condition.
Finally, evidence of the benefits of gardening for those living with schizophrenia can be heard in their own words. Patients involved in gardening and horticultural therapy programs frequently report an improved sense of wellbeing and an increased ability to cope with everyday life. Thrive is an organisation in the UK that began their work as far back as 1978. They are a charity that uses the process of gardening to help disabled people to literally transform their lives. They offer help to disabled individuals who want to garden at home, on an allotment or in a community setting, or who would like to undergo horticultural therapy programs. Three out of four of their clients found that gardening had been beneficial to their health. But let’s hear the story of one of their clients with schizophrenia, Gavin.
Gavin has been using Thrive’s services since 2001 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had been suffering bad mood swings and lacked purpose in his life. He has found that the gardening services have improved both of these aspects of his condition. After seven years working with Thrive’s therapists he says he has seen obvious improvement and is looking forward to the greater degree of independence he is gaining, he is even looking to move into his own house soon. Gavin now has regular part-time work and is also a volunteer research at a hospital. He has written books and articles and undertaken Level 6 music exams. His life is full and enriching, he is truly thriving.
Gavin’s is just one success story, and whilst gardening and horticultural therapy is not the answer for every patient, it is clear that it offers another option to sufferers of schizophrenia. Used in conjunction with other more traditional treatment options, gardening and horticultural therapy can help to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, improve health outcomes and offer real hope and purpose to individuals with the condition.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with their schizophrenia, you can visit One Door Mental Health. This organisation supports people with mental illness and their families to find an inclusive community. They offer innovative services and advocacy support and are now accessible through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. You can visit their website at: www.onedoor.org.au
Better Health, Victorian Government:
My Virtual Medical Centre:
Son, KC, Um, SY, Kim, JE and Kwack, HR (2004) Effect of Horticultural Therapy on the Changes of Self-Esteem and Sociality of Individuals with Chronic Schizophrenia, in Acta Hortic. 639, 185-191 – accessed at: http://www.actahort.org/members/showpdf?booknrarnr=639_23
Thrive – Using Gardening to Change Lives: