The Inpatient Mental Health Unit at Cornwall Community Hospital (CCH) recently introduced horticultural therapy as a new and engaging way to improve the patient experience and assist in the development of new skills that can aid in recovery.
Through this type of therapy, staff bring patients outside to tend to vegetable gardens and get fresh air. Garden boxes recently constructed for this program are located behind the hospital’s Community Addiction and Mental Health Services Centre, where a variety of herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, bell peppers and strawberries have been planted by patients.
Horticultural therapy has long been used as therapeutic activity for people with mental illness. People’s interactions with plants, through goal-orientated horticultural activities in the form of active gardening, as well as the passive appreciation of nature, could be therapeutic to people with mental disorders.
Staff have prioritized a patient-centered approach with the gardens, supporting patients therapeutically while they tend to the gardens and carry out their tasks and meet goals.
Dr. Katerina Nikolitch, Chief of Psychiatry at Cornwall Hospital, is thrilled with the recent launch of the new horticultural therapy program.
“Gardening has many therapeutic benefits. It can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, improve self-esteem, and provides physical exercise,” said Dr. Nikolitch. “Patient interest has been very positive with many reporting they are sleeping better, greatly enjoying the fresh air, socialization, and exercise.”
For Todd Beauregard, being outside and participating and watching in the growth of the garden has been a healing experience.
“I think it’s wonderful that the gardens exist. It’s a way to bring people to nature, just to be part of the growing and watching things become edible, I think that’s very helpful with physical and mental health. The herbs have beautiful a smell, the vegetables are all edible, and it’s a lovely thing for people to enjoy.”
Mandy Lane is a mental health counsellor at CCH who has been regularly bringing her patients outside to work in the gardens.
“Any patients who are offered the opportunity to go work in the garden always jump at it. There’s always lots of smiles and a noticeable lifting of mood afterwards,” explains Lane. “I would also say it’s created good opportunity for staff and patients to have conversations they might not have otherwise, whether about gardening or other interests. The different environment seems to make patients feel more at ease.”
Based on the positive results and feedback, staff are now exploring the idea of an indoor program that can be offered throughout the year and hopes to further expand the outdoor garden next year.