Better Mental Health, Down on the Farm

Since moving to a little farmhouse in middle Tennessee, my mental health has improved tremendously. I find it difficult to feel anxious or depressed when outside or working with animals (be they bovine, equine or human!).

Caring for farm animals appears to offer a therapeutic benefit for people with mental illness, according to new research.

Earlier studies with cats and dogs have shown that animal-human interaction can decrease stress and improve self-confidence and social competence. But less is known about whether working with other types of animals offers any benefits to those struggling with anxiety or other psychiatric disorders. Even so, the use of farms to promote mental health is increasing in Europe and the United States, as various treatment programs offer so-called “green” care, which includes time in community gardens and on farms as a form of therapy.

To determine whether time working with farm animals makes a meaningful difference in mental health, Norwegian researchers studied how life on the farm might affect patients with problems like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and personality disorders. Reporting in the journal Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, they recruited 90 patients, including 59 women and 31 men, with psychiatric ailments. The vast majority were being treated with antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, mood stabilizers and other medications.

Nihilistic Neighborliness

Don't get me wrong. I have two small children and care deeply about the future. Then comes Saturday, and we're out of milk. Time to get in the minivan and drive to WholeFoodsWildOatsTraderJoesFreshMarket and buy some organic cow juice.

There! I have done it.

I've just doomed my progeny by procuring breakfast essentials for Saturday morning cartoon-watchers!

The folks at are seriously challenging me, and our communities, by pushing against the greenest of our most well-intentioned green-consumerism, by declaring: "But there is a danger in thinking that all we have to do is design better substitutes for the products we already consume, and then convince people to buy them."

"Neighborliness, Innovation and Sustainability"
by Alex Steffen | April 7, 2008 9:51 AM
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It's an attractive fantasy -- instead of diving a Hummer, living in a McMansion and shopping at the Gap, I can drive a Prius, live in an EcoMansion and shop at Gaiam -- but it's still playing make-believe, because the systems that support and enable those choices are themselves unsustainable. Highways are destructive, even when full of hybrids; sprawl is unsustainable, even when the individual houses are green; we don't even know what sustainable clothing would look like, much less how to make conventional retail green.

No, if we're going to avert ecological destruction, we need to to not only do things differently, we need to do different things. We need to work to build dense, walkable neighborhoods composed of green buildings served by bike infrastructure and transit and green infrastructure, suffused with good design choices and smart technologies that let us live in a different set of relationships with our stuff, the materials we use and the energy that powers our lives.