Gardening and Mental Health: A Brief Overview

People around the world use gardening to interact with nature
Gardening is one of the most popular ways in which people interact with nature globally. It is estimated that in the U.S., 1 in 3 adults (almost 120 million) engage in gardening as a hobby on a regular basis. The numbers are similar in other countries where surveys of gardening have been done, including Japan (32 million or 1 in 4), the U.K. (23 million representing almost 90 percent of households), as well as New Zealand and Sweden.
Established beneficial effects on physical and mental health
There is substantial evidence that frequent contact with natural environments has beneficial effects on both physical and mental health, including reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, enhanced longevity, and for our interest today, lessening symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety. Regular gardening has also been shown to enhance overall life satisfaction, general well-being, cognitive function, and community engagement. The medical profession acknowledges that regular contact with nature, including spending time outdoors working in a garden, is a cost-effective, preventive therapy.
Gardening enhances the overall quality of life and decreases the severity of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems
Multiple studies found that participating in gardening activities reduced the severity of depressed mood and anxiety, reduced stress, and enhanced overall quality of life. Another significant finding was a cumulative positive effect on mental health from repeated short-term engagement in gardening activities. No significant differences in outcomes were found with respect to differences in the socio-economic status of gardeners. In addition, maintaining a garden encourages people to exercise on a regular basis, which has established physical and mental health benefits. Gardening provides opportunities for increased community engagement reinforcing social ties. Finally, the beneficial effects of gardening may be associated with a healthier diet that results from consuming home-grown vegetables and fruits high in nutrient content.
Gardening may play an even more important role during COVID-19
The global pandemic is being made worse by the widespread disruption in social support networks during prolonged periods of enforced social distancing. Individuals who were already struggling with mental illness before COVID-19 are now facing even greater challenges. These circumstances may worsen in the context of widespread poverty and hunger, entrenched disparities in health care among minorities and the underserved, and an overall decline in access to health care resulting from the economic breakdown in the wake of COVID-19 (Ahonen, Fijishiro, Cunningham and Flynn 2008). Patients diagnosed with or recovering from COVID-19 had a significantly higher risk of depressed mood, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, and substance abuse. Patients with preexisting psychiatric disorders reported worsening of their symptoms. Health care workers who treat patients infected with COVID-19 likewise reported high rates of depressed mood, anxiety, chronic stress, and poor sleep quality. Studies included in the review on the mental health impacts of the pandemic on individuals who were not infected with SARS-CoV2 revealed lower general psychological well-being and higher scores of anxiety and depression compared to before COVID-19.
Bottom line

Hundreds of millions of people engage in gardening and other nature-based activities in all world regions. Regular gardening has established beneficial effects on general physical health and well-being and reduces the severity of depressed mood, anxiety, and other specific mental health problems. The serious, widespread mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic provide even more reasons to engage in gardening for health and well-being than during normal times.

Source: Psychologytoday (2020).