Plants and our Mental Health
As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week we begin our ongoing series of blogs that will get to the reality behind the endless headlines and studies that preach the benefits of houseplants for our mental health.
First up is our wonderful friend and fellow plant lover Lauren, a hard-working and long suffering History teacher originally from Smethwick, West Midlands who shares her home with husband Dan, Winston the cat and (at the time of writing) 70 houseplants.
My now husband and I bought our first house in 2018 and two years later we have (almost unknowingly) created our own little modest jungle of 70 houseplants. But when I look back at the start of our houseplant journey I realise we both fell in love with plants for very different reasons. For me, it was originally for aesthetic purposes, a way of giving our rather empty home character and life. For my husband, although resistant at first, it was to reconnect with nature and to bring the outside world indoors. But, he also quickly realised it was a way to make himself feel better.
My husband was diagnosed with depression a few years ago and with anxiety more recently. For those who live with a loved one who suffers with their mental health you will know the struggles they face on a daily basis, the look they get when they are battling with their own thoughts or fighting off a panic attack. You will also know well the complete feeling of utter helplessness when you are unable to help them. Looking after someone with a mental illness is not the same as looking after someone with a physical injury or condition. There are no magic painkillers to make the pain go away, words of encouragement are completely wasted (and often very counterproductive) and we can’t see and therefore cannot comprehend how deep the wound actually is and as much as we want to, we just simply cannot understand the battle they are facing.
I have been to the GP a few times with my husband to give him some moral support and I am happy to report that for the most part his GPs have been very supportive and understanding. However, some of their advice for suppressing symptoms of mental illness is more easily said than done for a man who is in work at 6am and doesn’t finish until after 6pm. Long walks, regular exercise outdoors, more sleep and working less hours become unrealistic aims after the commute home. The closest he gets is cooking dinner (which is one of his chosen chores to give him time to ‘turn off’- plus I can’t cook for toffee and will ruin all of the good pans *rolls eyes*) and then relaxing before falling asleep at 9.30pm ready for the 4am alarm.
But this is where the beauty and wonders of houseplants help. The time that he does spend at home, cooking and relaxing, he is surrounded by nature. If we run out of time to go for a walk or if he’s simply too tired, he is not missing out on the benefits of nature because plants are all around the house. Since we started our mini jungle he's always said that they ‘help with his head’ and this is when I began wondering about the science and impact of houseplants on mental health. So I did some research....
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) argue that houseplants have been shown to have many positive psychological benefits which include: improving one's mood, reducing stress levels, improved attention span and increasing worker productivity. In addition, some houseplants have the ability to provide clean air and reduce the impact of indoor air pollution.
I was also interested to learn that Psychology Today has published research showing that people who surround themselves with natural beauty, both outdoors and indoors, “experience emotional and mental health benefits that have a positive impact on their social, psychological, physical, cognitive, environmental, and spiritual well-being”. These benefits include, stress reduction, reduced symptoms of depression, stronger memory retention, higher productivity levels and better self esteem.
My husband has let me get carried away with buying more and more houseplants over the last year and most of our friends and family just figure that he’s giving in to my plant buying impulses just to make me happy. What they don’t see is the interest he shows in every single one of our plants; how he helps place them around the house so he has his favourite ones around him more; how he’s constantly looking at them and pointing out ‘new growth’ or telling me about what plants need more water or better care when I don’t pick up on it. The more focus he puts on our houseplants and as long as he tells me they make him feel better, I will continue to grow and nurture our jungle because this is the one small thing I can do to help him fight his illness.
At the beginning of our plant buying journey, like most we were worried about instantly killing the plants off and just genuinely being bad plant parents. However, with the help of our favourite plant advisor Natalie and multiple online websites we have been successful in keeping the majority of our plants alive. Although, that’s not to say we haven’t killed the odd one or two! I have quickly discovered the biggest killer of plants is over caring and over watering! Root rot is a big killer of plants, so if you’re bored and think I ‘might as well water my plants’, step away and put the watering can down. Follow your normal watering schedule and only add additional watering if the plant is being overly dramatic (for example a Peace Lily!)
Our all time favourite variation of plant is the Monstera Family and we currently have five different variations in our jungle. They are so easy to look after and throw out new growth all of the time, so if you are starting your own little jungle then a Monstera should definitely be on your wish list!
If you’d like to share how your little jungle has helped your own mental health, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org