Mental Health Benefits of Gardening : Can playing in the dirt really make a girl happy?

Have you ever wondered if there are any mental health benefits of gardening? Can growing a few tomatoes and herbs in the dirt provide anything more for you than a tasty dinner? The last couple of weeks I have been feeling a little bit BLAH. Maybe it’s the weather, could be hormones, or maybe it is just good old stress wreaking havoc on my emotional well being. Whatever it is, my favorite place this week has been my recliner…preferably still wearing my pajamas or eating chocolate. I know I need to snap out of this funk before my husband notices that the house is a mess or I can’t fit into my jeans any more. But, what is a girl to do about a funk of no known cause? I worked in a pharmacy for 15 years. I know there are LOTS of pharmaceutical options for treating BLAH. That is just not my thing. That means I need a non prescription therapy for my emotional upheaval.


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Mental Health Benefits Gardening: Can playing in the dirt really make a girl happy?
© Andrey Armyagov |

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

While I was surfing the green news websites this week (from my recliner, in my pajamas…) I discovered an interesting article. Scientists have shown that a bacteria in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae can actually make people happy! Apparently, doctors decided to use a killed version of this bacteria as an alternative treatment for lung cancer patients. Not only did it reduce some of the cancer symptoms but it also improved their mental outlook rather significantly. Scientists are theorizing that there is a link between the immune system and the human brain and worry that our increasingly sterile lives might be one cause for the rise in depression. That means that one of the huge mental health benefits of gardening is getting exposed to a bacteria that can actually make you happier!

Mental Health Benefits Gardening Can playing in the dirt really make a girl happy
© Arne9001 |

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Think About This:  According to the Centers for Disease Control, eleven percent of Americans aged 12 years and over take antidepressant medication. Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by people aged 18 to 44 years old. That is a lot of prescription medication for a population to be using on a daily basis.

The active compounds in antidepressants help balance out our moods but they don’t stop working just because they have passed through our body and done their work. What goes in one end eventually comes out the other (not to be crass, here…) and as we learned in Disney’s Nemo movie…all pipes eventually lead to the sea.

Mental Health Benefits Gardening

In an investigation by the Associated Press, drinking water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas were found to include drugs of one type or another  The levels are low but scientists aren’t sure exactly what the long term effects of this contamination are yet. Check out the investigation done by MSN on the waste water treatment facility’s position on testing for pharmaceuticals. Maybe if more people knew about the mental health benefits of gardening we could reduce the number of people on prescription antidepressants!
 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening Can playing in t

So, why should we be concerned about the presence of anti-depressants in our water supply? While health care officials and water treatment facility spokespeople insist that the levels are insignificant, studies on marine life seem to indicate otherwise. Apparently a bizarre side effect of Prozac on shrimp is that they abandon their safe, dark little homes in favor of much more well lit areas. What happens when they head into the light? Predators are waiting to eat them. And, apparently, antidepressants do NOT have the same mood altering effect on shrimp as they do on humans so they don’t even get to die happy. Poor little shrimp!

Whether you choose to treat your BLAH mood with medication, retail therapy, or digging in the dirt, please remember that NO prescription medication should be flushed down the toilet. Whether it’s antidepressants, birth control, cholesterol medications or good old fashioned Advil they do not belong in our water supply and may very well have a detrimental effect on the environment. Suicidal shrimp are probably the least of our worries! And maybe now that you know about the mental health benefits of gardening, you can talk to your doctor about your current medication regimen.

Have YOU noticed any mental health benefits of gardening?

1 thought on “Mental Health Benefits of Gardening : Can playing in the dirt really make a girl happy?”

  1. I heard about the water contamination some time ago on one of the morning shows. They measured some of the drug levels in the Potomac and though it was a long time ago they found astonishing levels of hormones that are found in birth control pills. Scary.
    That is very interesting about the bacteria in soil though. Maybe that is one reason why we feel so good after we work in the garden.


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