Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) individuals and communities continue to be a topic of focus in Australia, a nation founded on an identity of immigration.
While prevalence of mental illness in these groups mirror those of a white Australian population, those from CALD backgrounds often report higher symptom severity, greater social isolation, a reduction in feelings of community, and are often less likely to be formerly diagnosed. There is a shortage of community programs that support this subpopulation, this provided an opportunity to develop a program that engages CALD participants who experienced mood disorder symptoms.
After considering cultural, structural and language barriers to engagement we focused our intervention in the principles of Therapeutic Horticulture. Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) has a strong clinical history and has been demonstrated to reduce self-reported severity in symptoms of mood disorders during and up to three months post intervention.
Focusing on our catchment in the outer South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne the program Harvest Your Health focused on practical and therapeutic tasks built into activities within a community garden. Activities were designed in line with Recovery principles and included physical activity, nutrition, meaningful activity, sensory stimulation, stress reduction techniques and self-regulation.
The outcomes indicated an increase in self-reported health and sense of belonging. In qualitative interviews we noted themes of increased connection to community, reduction in mental health symptoms and increase in health. We also noted additional benefits that included participant’s increased confidence in navigating around their community and in engaging with general services in their area (TAFE, coffee shops, broader community activities).
More pleasing for us was the commitment and ongoing participation displayed by the group members, many of whom have rented their own garden plots in the community space. This dedication, the positive response and the low cost nature of the program demonstrate that it is possible to engage diverse groups in psycho-social rehabilitation in a culturally appropriate way within current program frameworks of the community welfare sector.
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By Vanessa von Berg, Housing and Recovery Worker, and Michelle Murray, Community Recovery Worker at Wellways Australia Ltd.