How a Stroll in the Garden Could Be the Prescription Your Mind Needs
On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman strolls through Denver Botanic Gardens with a friend, taking pictures of ducks and marveling at the bananas she sees hanging from a tree in the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. The sun is good for her mental health, and so is the friend she hasn’t seen in months. Covid and depression made planning with friends seem impossible. But here she was thanks to 2 free tickets in hand enjoying a novel experience she never would have thought of if her psychiatrist hadn’t recommended it—and she was having a good time. Welcome to the world of holistic mental health and the often-overlooked concept of social prescribing.
While prioritizing mental health has gained mainstream acceptance, improving mental health is still a complex issue that Axis Integrated Mental Health believes requires more than medication. “We’re very adept with managing the biology of depression. But if we just send people back to the same environment and habits that led them to be depressed in the first place, the temporary improvements we see when a patient is in clinic may not be sustainable,” said Axis’ cofounder Chris Perez. “We know that while treatment can improve neuroplasticity, but healthy habits and novel experiences is how we ensure that the improvements become more permanent. My question has always been, how do we encourage patients to keep building on their growth outside of the treatment room?”
The answer came to him while he was on a date with his wife in the Shofu-en Japanese Garden.
What is Social Prescribing: A Holistic Approach to Mental Health
Social prescribing is a concept that Axis Integrated Mental Health supports for patients undergoing treatment. It involves recommending non-medical interventions to improve well-being, like engaging in community activities, joining clubs, or exploring natural settings. The benefits of social prescribing have been well documented. According to the World Health Organization, "Studies indicate that social prescribing may be effective in improving health and well-being as well as being cost-effective by reducing demand on the health sector." It taps into the belief that our environment and social connections play a pivotal role in nurturing our mental wellness. The WHO has also published a social prescribing framework that many countries follow.
Social prescribing around the world has gained traction. In countries like Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, social prescribing programs have demonstrated positive results for communities such as:
With so much evidence that social prescribing works, Axis Integrated Mental Health became one of the first mental health clinics in Colorado to dedicate time and resources to getting as many patients involved as possible.
A Social Prescribing Example: Denver Botanic Gardens and Mental Health
With its ever-changing scenery, the scent of flowers and the tranquil sounds of nature that permeate the air, Denver Botanic Gardens is an ideal location to promote holistic mental health with patients who have been undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety. Our clinic recognized the profound impact of nature on mental well-being and took a unique step by investing in a corporate membership.
One patient shared during a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) session that he had always been fascinated by bonsais. However, because he was deeply affected by an earthquake he witnessed as a child and the subsequent damage it did to his hometown, the patient also suffered from severe anxiety to the extent that he experienced full-blown panic attacks when surrounded by large buildings. As part of his treatment, the clinic offered him tickets to the Gardens as a part of exposure therapy and to allow him to see the famed Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion. With the potential of seeing the bonsais firsthand, the patient was able to go to the Gardens with his family and reflect on the experience with his therapist, allowing him to make further breakthroughs and reduce his anxiety. On his last day of treatment, he was gifted with his own personal bonsai and a book on how to cultivate it.
How Social Prescribing and Nature Nurtures Our Minds
The therapeutic effects of natural settings on mental health are not mere speculation; they're backed by science. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology reveals that spending time in nature reduces the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and promotes positive emotions. This phenomenon is so significant that it even has a name: "biophilia," the innate human tendency to seek connection with nature.
A study from the University of Michigan highlights that spending time in green spaces is linked to improved focus, reduced symptoms of depression, and enhanced cognitive function. In fact, a mere 20-minute nature walk has been proven to elevate mood and boost overall well-being.
Embracing Holistic Mental Health: How You Can Get Started
Embracing the concept of social prescribing for your mental wellness journey can be as simple as stepping into your backyard or visiting a local park. If you're fortunate enough to be in the greater metro Denver area, Denver Botanic Gardens might just be the tranquil oasis your mind craves.
If you're looking for a deeper connection, you can find many avenues for social prescribing projects. For instance, you can engage in community gardening, outdoor yoga classes, or volunteer activities that bring you closer to nature and like-minded individuals. Your mental health journey is unique – explore and find the activities that resonate with your soul or talk to our Client Success Manager who can collaborate with our social prescribing team for a list of outlets in our social prescribing program.
Social Prescribing is Critical to Sustainable Healing
As we continue to unravel the layers of mental health care, it's essential to embrace a holistic approach that encompasses all aspects of our lives. Social prescribing activities, with its emphasis on community engagement and nature's healing touch, offers a refreshing perspective. So, the next time you're handed a prescription, don't be surprised if it includes a date with a garden or a leisurely walk in the park – your mind will thank you for it.