Can Houseplants Treat Anxiety and Depression? Here’s What You Need to Know
Last month, the mental health community was abuzz with some interesting news: Doctors at a clinic in Manchester, England have begun prescribing houseplants to patients who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Augusta Ward, a medical secretary at the clinic, told Metro UK that the idea behind the program is that, “Having something to care for brings so many benefits to people––especially for those who might not have a garden or be able to own pets.”
Plus, the plants give patients a reason to come back to the clinic’s garden and spend time there. “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,” says Dr. Phillipa James, a GP at the clinic. Dr. James’ comment has roots (see what we did there?) in ecotherapy, the idea that spending time in nature can have healing properties.
And it’s not just a theory. There’s data to back it up. In 2015, researchers at Stanford University found that walking in nature regularly could lead to a lower risk of developing depression. Other studies have shown that there are even stress-relieving psychological and physiological benefits to looking at nature images and listening to nature sounds.
But can a houseplant really help with anxiety or depression? According to NBC News, they can. The news outlet points out that houseplants have been shown to boost your mood and reduce stress levels. Some plants that are thought to have direct mental health benefits include lavender (which has been used to ease depression for thousands of years), aloe and basil.
Beyond plants that have actual properties that make them beneficial for those dealing with depression and anxiety, all houseplants can potentially have mental health benefits. They give their owners a sense of purpose in caring for them, and a sense of satisfaction in watching them thrive, both of which promote mental wellness.
In terms of prescribing plants and using them as a main intervention in depression and anxiety treatment however, experts have some concerns. “A plant would not be a main intervention or likely part of any formal medical guidelines,” says Dr. John Torous, a board-certified psychiatrist based in Cambridge, Mass. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help supplement an existing treatment plan. “Clearly a meaningful hobby or role in taking care of a plant could be helpful as a psychosocial intervention for some people. But the key word here is augmenting standard treatment, not replacing it,” Dr. Torous continues.
The bottom line? Houseplants offer a ton of psychological benefits—they just probably can’t treat anxiety or depression on their own. It’s yet another excuse to buy that succulent you’ve had your eye on.
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