A Green Human Chain

People’s interaction with a green environment could be a real help in managing a mental illness.  

An increasing amount of research attests to the unique values of horticulture as a therapeutic modality for people with physical, mental, emotional and social disabilities as well as addictions. 

In the case of Thessaloniki Psychiatric Hospital in Stavroupoli, this interaction does not only take the form of active land work but is also determined by the architecture of the space. The green spread everywhere, and the continuity of buildings is often interrupted by wide tree-lined avenues leading to large green areas equipped for outdoor activities. The feeling of being enclosed in a natural, wide-open context provides a healthy environment and, at the same time, increases the likelihood of positive treatment outcomes. This is where our voluntary work begins; alongside workers and members of the Argo community, we look after a large plot of land and two greenhouses where fruit, vegetables and aromatic herbs are grown.

The daily routine in the land is composed of a sequence of gestures that we all perform in equal measure, and the land is the last recipient of a value that flows from a collective and democratic gesture. The relationships between the points of this social network develop into a non-competitive environment where positive interaction and mutual support are encouraged, and disparities are levelled out. 

plants

A sensorial work of care

After a month spent in close contact with this cooperative, the idea of a “social open-space” materialised. Barriers are dropped, and relationships branch out without obstruction. A “transversal community”, where rehabilitation is a process of shared care, in which the patient is not a passive receptor of care but is also a caretaker thanks to horticulture therapy. A circular human chain where the patient regains self-esteem and fulfilment by finding his functionality in purposeful activities.

At the same time, horticultural activities embody a strong meaning in terms of sensoriality. Every plant, by its nature, is unique and requires the involvement of all the senses to appreciate its fragrance, texture, and taste. This implies a significant involvement of the corporality of the person who perceives the surroundings in their entirety and is able to awaken a feeling of belonging.

By listening to and respecting what nature demands, it will be possible to gradually reconstruct a relationship with one’s own identity.

people at work

Organic approach 

In the biological sphere, the challenge is double, and man’s value in the process is prioritised. The hand that removes the excess grass replaces the chemical that inhibits growth. The harvested weeds are new fertilisers for the soil. Insects are not enemies but co-workers. That tomato without that bee would not exist, and that soil without that worm would be inert. 

A person who experiences these small things on a daily basis gains knowledge and thus respect. Man moves away from the predominantly anthropocentric position and embraces the cyclical nature of natural processes, where there is no individual but a network.

Working in an agricultural biological network within a community is not just field work but a driving force for the activities and projects that take place in the centre. The biological key extends into the relationships between staff and patients; the unfiltered, km-0, person-to-person care is not far from the proximity between hand and soil. 

Everything is reflected in the day-to-day care in order to preserve, know and build.

grass and man at work in the background

Post Author: Gianluca Capozzo

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