Horticultural Intervention

Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe that day; a 9 magnitude earthquake rocked the small country of Japan, setting off a tsunami and tidal wave that killed thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands and made the threat of nuclear extinction a reality.

But you survived.

You had gotten out in time, made do for years in temporary housing and finally have a more permanent place. Things should be looking up, but you are not quite all right. You have flashbacks, intrusive memories and nightmares, all of which are the indicators of PTSD.

And they are taking over your life!

In 2011, Japan was hit by a massive earthquake and Tsunami that claimed the lives of almost 16,000 people and caused $300 billion in damage, but the lingering effects are just as poignant as the raw numbers. PTSD is rampant now, years later and various treatments are being tested to help heal, in the hopes that those effected can have a better quality of life.

A recent paper, entitled Horticultural Therapy as a Measure for Recovery Support of Regional Community in the Disaster Area: A Preliminary Experiment for Forty Five Women Who Living Certain Region in the Coastal Area of Miyagi Prefecture By Yuka Kotozaki, who is a Assistant Professor of Fukushima Medical University School of Medicine  (according to Linkedin), in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, shows findings that horticulture therapy has great potential in healing PTSD in survivors. Previous studies have hinted at the benefits of horticulture therapy on PTSD; the study’s goal was to conduct preliminary investigations into this form of therapy to see if it would help, and if it did help, provide the foundation for future programs.

“Horticultural therapy (HT) is a method of psychological care for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that was developed in the United States after World War II for the psychological care and social rehabilitation of disabled soldiers and war veterans showing PTSD symptoms (Detweiler et al., 2010).”

In the study, 45 women from the coastal area of Miyagi Prefecture took part in the study.  All of these women were effected by the earthquake, but were known to not have mental issues before the earthquake. Once the women were randomly split into control and intervention groups, the two groups were tested for their sense of community, their self-esteem, their general health, and their depressive symptoms. Once a baseline was established, the control group were left to their own devices for 16 weeks. The intervention group went to 16 weeks of sessions at their local community center, each about 120 minutes long. Ten of those sessions were interactive lectures on basic horticulture and then the final six were more hands on classes. The participants were also required to spend 15 minutes a day practicing at home in their gardens what they had previously learned. The instruction included classes on designing a garden planter, seeding, watering, weeding, and picking flowers. On top of that, each woman was sent home with a horticulture kit to help her garden in her own home garden.

Just a few minutes on social media or news web sights would be enough to see that gardening and getting back to nature is having a come back. It is more than the hipster thing to do but the healthy thing to do; but why?

We can talk about the pride we all feel in the works of our hands all night long. We can swap endless recipes for the results of our gardens and stories about the perfect tomato. But what is that? Asking our neighbor about their famous salsa or if they need any peppers is community building, creating a sense of belonging.

So not only do we have our own grown healthy food and a new friend to talk to about it, but we are feeling better about ourselves in the process. It is easy to just chalk it up to an interactive hobby, but what does the science have to say about it?

Serotonin: That is the name of the chemical in our brains that is our natural anti depressant and immune system strengthener.  The dirt touched in the process of creating our own botanical haven is full of Mycobacterium vaccae. It sounds intimidating, but in reality it triggers the release of serotonin, effectively dosing us with happy.

Dopamine: Though not immediately delivered to our brains by just getting dirty, it is the chemical our brain produces that is linked to addiction—but in a good way. When we pick and smell the fruits of our labor, the part of our brain dedicated to our reinforcement and reward lights up, causing further joy and inspiring us to want to grow and harvest more.

After all this information, no one can be surprised to discover that after the 16 weeks were over, the results were as hoped, Kotozaki  reported that the intervention group, “showed significantly increased post-intervention community consciousness score and self-esteem score.”

She went on to say that, “In this intervention, people in the HI group took horticultural-related lessons together and done horticultural activities each time. We think that they can be improved new communication skills and interpersonal relationship skills because this intervention was a long term and they have performed together. Therefore, we also think that their community awareness improved.”

This small experiment has easily proven what gardeners everywhere already knew—Horticultural intervention therapy is more than a good way to beautify your neighborhood; it can lessen the effects of PTSD and depression while strengthening your community. Even if you lack enthusiasm in your own garden, you can at least rejoice in the good news for those earthquake survivors.

In closing notes, Kotozaki spoke positively about the future of the earthquake victims, “From the above results, it can be said that the effectiveness of horticultural therapy as a method of improving the local community consciousness by our intervention. In the future, we will move forward with full-scale experience in the disaster area and will address the impact of regeneration and revitalization of local community.”

By showing that Horticultural intervention works, further experiments will happen going forward with implementing of these experiments in more communities to combat PTSD and bring a better quality of life to the survivors of the tragedy.

Other Source: Why Gardening Makes You Happy and Cures Depression

(Environmental and Scientific Writing Assignment 2015)


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