Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse uses gardening to help people with mental illnesses

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Channel 11 is Breaking The Stigma around mental health. Gardening is good for it.

A study this year found that people who gardened in a community garden had a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Delane Swearman helps take care of a garden in Squirrel Hill as a member of the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse.

She showed Channel 11 the apple tree she helped prune back, 5 years ago. “This year its producing lots of apples so that’s exciting to see that,” said Delane.

The Clubhouse is a community for people diagnosed with serious mental illness to build relationships, find purpose, and heal.

“With the garden, you have no better time than to sit around and chat, pull some weeds, and build beautiful relationships all while knowing you are needed,” said Dr. Chrissy Whiting-Madison, director of the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse.

Members of The Clubhouse plant, weed, and harvest the produce from the garden. Then it goes into their kitchen at the Clubhouse where they prepare it and can enjoy a meal with the fruits of their labor.

Dr. Whiting-Madison says there’s scientific research pointing to the benefits of gardening and mental health.

“There’s a component or nutrient in the soil that activates the chemicals in your brain that activate your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex actually helps you to make more rational thoughts,” said Dr. Whiting-Madison. “So you’re able to see the bigger picture, you’re able to be happier, less anxious, and less depressed.”

For Delane, “It’s a sense of accomplishment, just being out in the sunshine and fresh air.”

That inner peace came from a lot of work on Delane’s part since she started with The Clubhouse in 2010.

“I had just been laid off from a physician assistant job,” she recalls. “At the time I was suffering from a pretty severe depression. I had just been in the hospital.”

But The Clubhouse and its opportunities for things like working in the community garden have really helped Delane.

“It really made me feel confident again and really been a place of healing and transformation,” said Delane.

She and Dr. Whiting-Madison want people to know healing and transformation is possible. They don’t want you to be ashamed if you need their services and companionship.

“We need to keep talking about it,” said Dr. Whiting-Madison. “The more people hear about it, the more it becomes part of American nomenclature the more acceptable its going to be to say, ‘yes I have a diagnosis.’”

“Get out there and show people that you’re living with mental illness and you’re a normal person,” said Delane.

Here is more information about The Clubhouse:

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