By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
Julian finds gardening relaxing
Julian Holland struggled to feel comfortable in social settings and had a debilitating lack of self-confidence.
For a long time he was reluctant to step outside his front door and took little care over the state of his home or appearance.
He suffered a breakdown last year and was hospitalised for three weeks.
Today however he is feeling much better and he puts that down to his involvement in a lottery funded special gardening project – Twigs (Therapeutic Gardening Work in Swindon) – that gives his life a new purpose.
Digging way out of depression
“There’s more to this project than digging – there’s a great community spirit here; everyone is treated as a person not as an illness,” he said.
“Before I came to Twigs I struggled to motivate myself even to leave the house in the mornings, but now I get real pleasure from tasks like the willow weaving, which really helps with my depression.
You have your doctor for your mental health support and she is great and I come to Twigs for a sense of achievement
“I have suffered from depression for about 10 years off and on, I get good days and bad days.
“I basically could not function before and would wake up with night sweats panic attacks etc.
“I did not want to go out, and I just could not be bothered to do anything.”
Julian, 45, from Swindon, said he had had fantastic support from his GP who prescribed him anti-depressants – but the gardening had given him a vital extra boost.
“You have your doctor for your mental health support and she is great and I come to Twigs for a sense of achievement,” he said.
“I go twice a week and do varied work from woodworking to potting up, cutting grass, working on the flowerbeds, weeding, willow weaving, and working on the allotments.
“Everyone using Twigs is in the same boat and they are all extremely supportive.
Julian willow weaving
“I like working outside, I can’t do an office job. Here there is no pressure on you to do one particular thing, you just pick what you want to do.
“I feel that I am doing something useful such as re-potting a whole flower bed.”
Richard Allwood, horticultural therapist at the gardening charity Thrive, said gardening therapy had been used to help with a variety of conditions.
“We have had people come to us with strokes, those who have depression and car crashes,” he said.
Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, a psychiatrist in Chelsea and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said gardening provides distraction therapy, vital in helping deal with depression.
“If I was seeing you in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) I might say, ‘Let’s look at three things you enjoy doing,’ and let’s say you say one of them is gardening, I would then say, ‘OK let’s do one hour’s gardening,’ he said.
“CBT is a modern form of psychological therapy dealing with the here and now as opposed to your past experiences looking at thinking and behaviour and can include all manner of techniques.
“It is a treatment of proven benefit.
“When you get depressed you stop doing things and get isolated which makes you more depressed. The theory is that if you do pleasurable things you will in time get better
“Gardening is a pleasurable activity and it focuses you away from thinking about your health problems.
“Why gardening and not running? Well I think at first it is a bit much doing things that are too physical. It is important to find something you enjoy.”