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Mental health cultivated on the farm

Time down on the farm with animals could provide some therapeutic benefit for people with mental illness, according to researchers writing in the open access journal Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health. The results come from the first randomised controlled study of the benefits of farm animals, as opposed to domestic pets.

Bente Berget and Bjarne Braastad of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås, working with Øivind Ekeberg of the University of Oslo, Norway, note that the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for mental disorders using cats and dogs has been well studied. However, until now, there have been no controlled trials of farm animals in treating psychiatric disorders.

The use of farms in promoting human mental and physical health in cooperation with health authorities is increasing in Europe and the USA, particularly under the Green care banner. Historically, the approach was associated with hospitals, psychiatric departments and other health institutions but today, most Green care projects involve community gardens, city farms, allotment gardens and farms.

To assess the benefits of Green care, the researchers asked ninety patients (59 women and 31 men) with schizophrenia, affective disorders, anxiety, and personality disorders to complete self-assessment questionnaires on quality of life, coping ability and self-efficacy, before a 12-week period spending three hours twice a week working with the farm animals.

The before and after results showed that AAT with farm animals had some positive effect on self-efficacy, the ability to cope, of patients with long-lasting psychiatric symptoms, their quality of life. "During the six months follow-up period self-efficacy was significantly better in the treatment group, but not in the control group," the researchers say.

They add that, "Further controlled studies are needed for confirmation and to more accurately define the psychiatric population with the greatest potential to benefit."

Charlotte Webber | alfa
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