Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Charity addresses escalating mental health challenges among military personnel

vegetables

Charity addresses escalating mental health challenges among military personnel with innovative horticultural therapy initiative

 

In response to the escalating mental health challenges faced by military personnel, Veterans’ Growth, a charity in East Sussex, is making significant strides in providing crucial support and resources to veterans through a unique initiative – horticultural therapy.

Army veteran Jason Stevens founded the charity after he was medically discharged from the MOD in 2016 due to a bilateral stroke, which left him with disabilities, both physical and cognitive. Also being diagnosed with PTSD, Jason spent time at Headley Court, a leading rehabilitation centre for injured service personnel.

During his treatment, Jason spent many hours tending the Headley Court gardens, as well as working as a gardener at a local business one day a week. Jason felt his recovery benefitted from this horticultural work, helping to put him in the right frame of mind to make the most out of rehabilitation. So, after reading a report in 2018 highlighting the rising number of veteran suicides, he started Veterans’ Growth, providing horticultural therapy to veterans with mental illness.

Today, Veterans’ Growth offers courses that include one-to-one sessions and group work, where it provides Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) to participants. The courses combine physical horticultural activities alongside additional sessions, such as theory-based learning, visits to sites of interest, talks and presentations on horticulture or well-being, therapy sessions and social activities. The charity aims to reduce participants’ levels of stress, anxiety, depression and isolation and seeks to establish long-term social connections within the group and the individuals attending. It also introduces horticulture as a new skill to participants and encourages them to continue developing their gardening into a hobby or career once the course ends.

Commenting on the benefits of horticultural therapy, Sarah Wilson, Interim CEO of Veterans’ Growth, said:

“Horticultural therapy has proven benefits for those dealing with mental health conditions, and we aim to provide a complimentary therapy which can support other forms of treatment. Veterans benefit from being outdoors in a green environment, being physically active, interacting with the local community and each other, learning about nutrition through growing food, and learning new skills with the possibility of using these to gain employment. Simply being on site, surrounded by nature and green space, is a tonic for many of our visitors.”

She added:

“Recent years have seen a concerning rise in mental ill-health within the military community, reflecting the unique and intense experiences that service personnel undergo. The toll of deployments, combat exposure, and the stress of reintegration into civilian life contribute to the growing problem of mental health disorders among veterans.

“Our mission at Veterans’ Growth is to ensure that no veteran or their family member faces mental health challenges alone. We understand the unique struggles of those who have served our country and are dedicated to providing the support and resources necessary for their well-being. No veteran should have to struggle alone, and we encourage anyone who would like support to please get in touch so we can help.”

Veterans’ Growth offers various services, including support groups and educational resources tailored to the specific needs of military personnel. The charity also conducts outreach programmes to raise awareness about mental health conditions and reduce the stigma surrounding seeking help. Veterans can attend either a 2-week residential course or regular weekly/bi-weekly day sessions. There are a maximum of 12 participants on each course, and sessions run from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. For more information, visit www.veteransgrowth.org.

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