MT psychiatric patients grow with seeds they sow

5/4/2013 12:30 PM
By Associated Press

WARM SPRINGS, Mont. (AP) — Julia initially isolated herself from other patients when she arrived at the psychiatric hospital here in January.

Now the 27-year-old Belgrade resident works with others at the Montana State Hospital in the Healing Waters Greenhouse, where patients grow and sell flowers, vegetables and herbs.

"I didn't realize how much I needed my peers until coming here," Julia said Wednesday, standing over a table of tomato plants. "I work with a lot of good people."

The greenhouse, built with a $141,000 grant from the Montana Mental Health Settlement Trust, was completed in January.

Founded in 2010 with $13 million won in a lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, the trust provides grants for crisis intervention, law-enforcement training, transitional housing and children's mental health programs.

Patients who work in the greenhouse showed off their products Wednesday. They had brightly colored marigolds and petunias and fragrant lavender and thyme. The patients' last names are being withheld at the hospital's request.

"Put your nose right into it," said Charles, a patient and greenhouse employee from Red Lodge.

Beth Eastman, the hospital's rehabilitation director, said the greenhouse is an expansion of an existing gardening program.

"I've always thought that gardening and a greenhouse would help people nurture themselves," she said.

Gardening is a holistic, full-sensory experience that patients find grounding and calming, Eastman said. It also provides them with vocational experience.

Greenhouse workers not only research and raise the plants but also arrange to sell them to area businesses. Proceeds go back into the program to provide more jobs for patients.

The greenhouse program "enables patients and staff to reach into the community in a new way, in a normalized way," hospital administrator John Glueckert told a crowd of about 100 patients, staff and visitors.

Richard Opper, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said it was fitting that the greenhouse opened so close to Earth Day, which started 43 years ago.

Opper was a high school senior at the time and organized his school's first Earth Day events. The program at his Oklahoma City school has expanded significantly since then, he said.

"So you never know, when you plant seeds, what good will come from them," Opper said.

Don, a patient and greenhouse employee, told the crowd how privileged he was to be part of the "healing waters dream team."

"My greatest pleasure has been working in the greenhouse," he said. "I was intimidated and excited by the challenge we faced. I feel like I've grown as a person."

The experience has given Julia hope, and she plans to teach her younger brother how to grow plants when she is discharged.

"The first time I looked at a (sprouting) red corn poppy, it's amazing what you can do with something so simple as a seed, soil and water," she said. "It's a good metaphor for us."

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