Finding Hope and Health in the Dirt



Article by Barbara Roberts, Executive Director of the MSU WorkLife Office


April is both National Mental Health Month and National Hope Month. What a great combination! And what better way to combine those two than getting your hands dirty outdoors? As tulips and daffodils begin to push through winter-crusted leaves, we push ourselves through winter’s crustiness toward better health and hope along with improving both our inner and outer weather.


Digging in the earth is actually good for your mood as well as getting some exercise and fresh air to stimulate circulation of oxygen. Apparently, bacteria released in soil are a natural anti-depressant1, so get out there and dig up some natural cheer! What we think of as outdoor chores can literally be good for your happiness. Pot gardens, window boxes, community plots, or empty lots need some TLC, and maybe you do, too. In your own front yard or a near-by park - anywhere you can connect with Mother Nature can enhance your health and wellbeing.


Community gardens are a great way to meet neighbors, and connection and interaction with others are key determinants of longevity. Just Google “community gardens (your location)” and plenty of possibilities will pop up. Paradise Community Gardens offers grow-your-own plots in connection with the Greater Lansing Food Bank. Put the Annual Community Garden Tour with the Ingham County Land Bank on your calendar this July and find some special gardens. Make some friends, share some perennials (met my neighborhood best friend that way!), grow some vegetables and cook a feast together. Picnic in the garden while you’re at it. Have a patch of flowers you can cut and share. Pot up some tomato and basil plants and make your own fresh caprese salad. Hire a student to help you if you can’t lift that bucket or tote that mulch! Or you can log in to with your MSU Net-ID to find some help!


And these are all more effective if done organically, without the chemicals in soil, plants and food that can contribute to anxiety and depression2. Planting and eating organic puts the good stuff inside along with what you inhale from outside while digging, growing and harvesting. Planting and gardening organically also sows hope for a healthy future. Find easy tips on going organic online. Start with one kind of produce that you love and make it organic. Choose an organically grown plant for your patio pot and protect it.


Taking care of others (including plants) also defeats depression, so reach out and plant some hope this month – as soon as the weather warms up a bit – or you can start them inside! Hoping in this month of hope and mental health that you find plenty of both, digging in the soil!


[1] "Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior."
C.A. Lowry, J.H. Hollisa, A. de Vriesa, B. Pana, L.R. Brunetb, J.R.F. Huntb, J.F.R. Patonc, E. van Kampena, D.M. Knighta, A.K. Evansa, G.A.W. Rookb and S.L. Lightmana. Neuroscience. Available online. 28 March 2007. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2007.01.06

[2] “Why gardening makes you happy and cures depression.” R. Francis. Permaculture College Australia. Available online. 3 April 2018