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Can Plants Really Help My Mental Illness?

A medical practice in Manchester, England is giving patients indoor plants to help boost wellness.

Take two spider plants and call me in the morning?

It is no secret that houseplants have all kinds of benefits to offer their human hosts. Beyond their cheerful demeanor, they provide many helpful assists, like increasing oxygen levels, helping stave off illness, cleaning the air, boosting healing, nudging creativity, and relieving stress – among other things. (See the science behind those claims here.) Meanwhile, one study found that just observing a houseplant can help foster happiness.

So it comes as little surprise that the medical community is catching on – as evidenced by a GP practice in Manchester, England that is prescribing plants to help people with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Laura Abernethy reports that patients get herbs, vegetables, and potted plants to care for. After a while, they bring them back to the medical office and transfer them to a communal garden. Abernethy writes, "The new scheme – believed to be a first in the country – gives patients a chance to join in with further gardening and social activities."

The plant prescription plan was launched by the Cornbrook Medical Practice in inner-city Hulme, a place where patients do not have much access to green space. Augusta Ward, a medical secretary at Cornbrook, told Metro UK, "Having something to care for brings so many benefits to people – especially for those who may not have a garden or be able to have pets."

Supported by the city’s health commissioners, the concept is a wonderfully holistic way to promote community involvement to improve well-being in the city. Not only do patients get the benefits of having had the plants, but they also forge a connection to the community garden – a place that offers both the benefits of green space as well as social connections.

"There’s a lot of evidence now about how two hours a week in a green space can lift mood – and then that too has physical, mental and emotional benefits. That’s something we need to harness." said Dr. Philippa James, a GP from the practice.

Of course, houseplants and a community garden aren't going to solve everyone's anxiety and depression – medication certainly has its place. But for sparking the spirit, it's a great supplement. As Dr. Ruth Bromley from Manchester Health and Care Commissioning, says, "So much of what keeps people happy and well isn’t medical. That’s why ideas like this one are so wonderfully effective..."

For more on houseplants and happiness, see our related stories here.

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