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This program incorporates farming as an ecopsychology approach for mental health recovery.

Mental health program aims to ease recovery – ecopsychology

Date Published:

Dec 02, 2006 03:00 AM

Author: Linda Stout

Source: The Ithaca Journal, New York, USA 612020304/1002&template=printart

ULYSSES, NY, USA — Carole Stone longed for a quiet retreat when she was battling bipolar disorder 20 years ago.

The Yale graduate and longtime Cornell University employee, said that when she was 25, she ended up back at her parents’ home because of her illness.

That experience led Stone to work with a group of Ithacans to establish a new program for sufferers of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Aspergers and major depressive disorder on Cayuga Nature Center’s White Farm.

It’s an agricultural day program to be devoted to working the land called Compos Mentis (Latin for “in control of your mind”). The program is slated to open formally in May 2007 with 12 participants, their families, friends and volunteers at the White Farm owned by and adjoining the Cayuga Nature Center on Garrett Road off Route 89.

“It’s what I wish had been there for me … I just wished there was someplace to go till I could feel better, and I imagined thinning carrots,” she said.

The nature center, which had solicited applications for use of the land, accepted the proposal in the spring, and since then, the Compos Mentis board of directors was put together. A permaculture program operates at the farm as well.

The program is not providing counseling, medication or other medical treatment. Nor is it a residential program. Participants will live in their own homes, Stone said, and must be involved in treatment with mental health professionals.

However farm-oriented, Stone also said it is not going to be a vocational program.

“We’re not going to make farmers out of everybody,” she said.

The program is going to start with the task of growing organic vegetables this spring, said board member Marvin Pritts, Ph.D., a professor and chairman of the horticulture department at Cornell. Stone said she expects the program will be raising chickens during its first May through October season, too.

Pritts, who’s also a board member at Cayuga Nature Center and acting as a liaison between the organizations, said he looks forward to the potential for woodlot management and community programs with agro-forestry topics like raising mushrooms and herbs in the woods. He said the nature center already uses many student volunteers, so there’s a likelihood of student volunteers for Compos Mentis.

“Horticultural therapy can be very good for people,” said Stone, who noted there’s a respected residential program which involves patients in farming called Gould Farm in Massachusetts. “Some people are coming out of a locked ward. The last thing they want is to be indoors. They want to be under a big sky and see time move under the sun. Here’s a rhythm of nature that should work.”

“What we’re doing is refreshing an old idea,” said psychiatrist Howard Feinstein, who has worked in Ithaca for 45 years. He’s vice-chair of the new board of directors. Farm work has historically been among the activities for patients at many state hospitals, he said.

Feinstein said Compos Mentis will be “a day program staffed by educated volunteers to help people engage in the rhythm of the agricultural cycle and the physical labor of gardening and farming while they and their families collect themselves.”

He said research shows that physical activity is an effective part of coping with mental illnesses.

It’s envisioned that family members and volunteers with their unique interests will contribute to Compos Mentis as mentors, he and Stone said.

Stone said, “We’re going to seek out as many volunteers from the community as we can find, schoolteachers out for the summer and people with hobbies who could teach and help.”

A mailing list of 700 has been compiled in order to reach into the community.

“We talked to people at heads of all the public agencies,” said Stone.