Can Plants Help Ease Depression?

This time of year is supposed to be one of joy and cheer, spending quality time with love ones. Yet, it also has a high rate of suicides, loneliness and depression.

Perhaps many of us have experienced some of these conflicts. The pressure of financially giving, relationship breakups or being isolated from family is enough to stress-out even positive people. I hear more and more friends and family being diagnosed for depression, including teenagers and even children. And it’s alarming to me, because I’ve seen the devastation it can do to that person as well as everyone around them. I have my theory as to why more people are experiencing it.

I believe what’s part to blame is each generation has created more and more expectations for the holidays, for our careers and having all the material things that are supposed to make us happy. While we are so consumed with acquiring these things, I believe each generation gets farther away from nature. I was very fortunate to grow up surrounded by fields, acres of woods and ponds with babbling brooks flowing by my home. Any time I needed to escape from reality, I took my sheepdog for a walk along the birch tree paths or skip rocks along the calm pond waters. I would catch tadpoles, eat the wild raspberries along the trails and watch fireflies twinkle over the dark canvas of giant pine trees. I couldn’t have been happier. I remember one time walking in the clover field and finding a Lady Slipper. Even though I was only thirteen, somehow I knew that plucking this extraordinary wild orchid from the ground would be wrong.

It seems to me, the majority of us are separating ourselves from the plant world. Our children are now entertained by video games, reality shows or shopping. As adults we buy gym memberships instead of jogging in the park, while our attention is immersed in our electronic devices for work and entertainment.

To back up my theory, researchers from Texas A&M University did a study on 300 middle-aged and older adults and found those who were regular gardeners were much more happy and positive about their future than those who didn’t garden. They also discovered that same group of gardeners ate many more vegetables then those who didn’t grow anything. As soon as I read that, I immediately thought what a great way to get our kids to have better eating habits. Even if it’s getting one of those upside down tomato planters or a chia pet, it lays the foundation for children to learn about nature and appreciate the food we eat. When I bought a grapefruit tree last year, I had to wait all summer for two small grapefruit to ripen. Finally, they started to ripen in October and when I finally took a bite, it was the sweetest white grapefruit I ever had. Now whenever I see grapefruit in the grocery store, I appreciate the effort and time it takes to grow one of those delicious babies.

Nature TrailMore studies are being conducted between the relationship of our well-being and nature. Scientists are finding that people who spend time around plants and nature report feeling less anxiety, depression, stress and more calm and relaxed than those who don’t. Even psychologists have noticed children with ADHD were able to focus more and pay attention when they are exposed to nature. This doesn’t surprise me and only reaffirms my personal beliefs.

The Healing Earth and Nature-Guided Therapy has reported many personal stories of individuals suffering from depression that found relief from the outdoors. After working sixty hours a week, not exercising, and eating on the run, fifty-year-old James became overweight, developed high blood pressure and fatigue. On the advice of his doctor, James began a green exercise program with a local community group that walked through the countryside on Saturdays. The simple act of observing trees, rocks, wild flowers and hearing the soothing sounds of wildlife started to transform James. After just walking along the hiking trails, he gradually began jogging and rock climbing. Within a few months, James’s blood pressure had decreased, he had lost several pounds and he had more energy. “Just by spending time outdoors each week, I felt rejuvenated and relaxed when I came into the office on Monday,” he said. James’s story also validates my belief that expensive gym memberships and diet programs aren’t the only way to live a healthy and happy lifestyle.

There are so many more of these examples validating our relationship to nature and the earth. I really feel our increasing isolation from plants and nature is harmful to our health and happiness. Perhaps this year when you are wondering what to get your niece or nephew, mother-in-law or the old man who lives alone next door, consider giving the gift of nature. A terrarium, carnivorous plant or a potted fruit tree just may benefit them more than any video game or box of candy ever could. To some child, that one small plant just may spark a lifetime of peace and happiness.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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