I’m very pleased to say our brilliant team at the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit has won an RCPsych award: Psychiatric Team of the Year: Outstanding commitment to Sustainability/Green Care.

Our project “From Plot to Perfect Poo” supports residents to grow and cook produce and source local ingredients for everyday eating. The project empowers residents and promotes a culture of belonging through shared tasks such as gardening, cooking and hospitality. And the food that is grown is chosen to enhance gut microbiota, which is important to mental health.

I want to share the thinking behind the project in a little more depth.

Healthy environment

The ADRU is a specialist service for treating severe obsessive compulsive and related disorders in a therapeutic community, based at the Bethlem Royal. The allotment is part of ongoing work to develop a therapeutic community that nurtures residents’ courage and sense of safety. These are crucial to engage with intensive cognitive behaviour therapy.

By becoming self-sufficient, sourcing healthy food locally and managing their own allotment, residents are empowered. And tasks associated with growing, preparing and cooking food can be incorporated into “exposure” therapy, as residents often find them very challenging. For example, tasks may relate to fears of contamination from the soil, making mistakes in cooking or being judged by others.

A healthy environment translates to a healthy individual. And so we’re lucky to be based in the grounds of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which has a long tradition of providing open green space with an orchard, wild berries, and a walled garden for horticulture.

Gardening for gut microbiota

Many residents come to us with a poor diet. As I’ve written previously, there’s increasing evidence that diverse gut microbiota is linked to good mental health. This situation can be improved by better knowledge about gut healthy food, appreciating the value of gardening, and developing the skills to prepare and cook one’s own food.

Our work at the allotment is only beginning. The project’s next stage will look to demonstrate that the diversity of residents’ gut microbiota improves after discharge, compared to admission, and is maintained at follow-up. Watch this space.