Innovative outdoors projects are helping people with mental health problems improve their lifestyle by connecting with nature, reports Nursing Standard.
The projects, run by the mental health charity Rethink, provide allotments for people to grow fruit, vegetables and berries, and boost their diet with the rewards.
Rethink aim to help people capture the traditional therapeutic value of gardening in their National Lottery-funded projects across Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. All the allotment keepers are people with illnesses ranging from mild depression to schizophrenia.
Working the land builds self-esteem, says the charity, and helps to improve diet. Individual support is given to patients to develop their gardening skills.
Area services manager for Wiltshire, Kris Scotting, said: "We want to move away from the junk food culture. The allotment keepers get gentle exercise, are in the great outdoors getting sunshine and can eat fresh seasonal food."
Although there are currently no plans to extend the scheme, Mr Scotting intends to set up a support network and develop an advice pack for people with mental health problems who want to take on an allotment.
He said: "There is research saying that being outside in the light improves your mood. Being in the sunshine has to be better than staying in a bedsit. We have found this scheme gives people a greater appreciation of food - they begin to look at recipes and value food more."
Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Andrew McCulloch, agrees that diet is crucial for mental health patients.
"We know dietary interventions may hold the key to a number of mental health challenges, yet we rarely invest in developing this knowledge," he said. "A relatively tiny, but growing, number of professionals are, however, putting it to effective use."
Date: March 19th 2008
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How sharp is your mind, how balanced is your mood, how consistent is your energy, how happy are you and what if anything, do these qualities have to do with what you eat? Feel-good substances are already around in their hordes, of course. In an average week in Britain, we drink 1 billion cups of tea, 154 million coffees, 250 million sugared or caffeinated soft drinks and 120 million alcoholic drinks, smoke 1.5 billion cigarettes and consume 6 million kilograms of sugar and 2 million of kilograms of chocolate. On top of this we take 2 million antidepressants, puff our way through 10 million joints and pop 1 million tabs of Ecstasy.
And do these work? Obviously they do, or they wouldnt be so popular. They boost energy, relieve anxiety, help us recover from a hard days work. Except the highs that many of these substances give us can evaporate all too quickly, and leave us coping with a nasty aftermath. Mood swings, depletion, exhaustion and even addiction can result from all that popping, pouring and puffing.
Meanwhile, psychotherapy is becoming increasingly popular. More people are now seeking professional help, and more and more frequently with at least 10 million visits a year. Alternatively you can do a life-changing course, read a self help book, change your state of mind through yoga or meditation. All of these can help.
But arent we forgetting something? Any intelligent person can recognise that our diets have changed radically in the last 100 years, along with our environment. When you consider that the body and brain are entirely made from molecules derived from food, air and water and that simple molecules like alcohol can fundamentally effect the brain, isnt it unlikely that changes in diet and the environment have had no effect on our mental health.
The evidence is there if you look for it. You can change how you think and feel by changing what you put into your mouth.
Antidepressant drugs like Prozac work by stopping the body from breaking down a brain chemical called serotonin, therefore keeping more in circulation in the brain, which improves your mood. The trouble is that these kinds of drugs induce unpleasant side effects in about a quarter of those who take them and severe reactions in a minority. The natural alternative is to eat your way to happiness by choosing foods from which the body makes serotonin. Serotonin is made from a constituent of protein called tryptophan. A study done by Dr Philip Cowen from Oxford Universitys psychiatry department wondered what would happen if you deprived people of tryptophan. He gave 15 volunteers who had a history of depression, but were currently fine, a nutritionally balanced drink that excluded tryptophan. Within seven hours 10 out of 15 noticed a worsening of their mood and started to show signs of depression. On being given the same drink but this time with tryptophan added their mood improved.
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