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Mental Health Garden offers peaceful time out

A flourishing sensory garden and sitting area in the Older Person’s Mental Health Unit (OPMHU) at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) has created a much-needed space for patients and families to find peace and fresh air in an otherwise clinical environment.

Staff at the Older Person’s Mental Health Unit enjoying the garden

Catering specifically to the needs of older persons aged 65 and over, the Older Person’s Mental Health Unit has the complex task of treating mental illness in patients with physical fragility and the need for increased emotional support requirements of their families. Determined to leap these hurdles, staff in the Unit had the innovative idea to introduce an accessible sensory garden to their therapy program.

The garden (pictured) was funded in 2018 by the Queensland Community Foundation via Wishlist, with help from Bunnings, to help make a difficult time a little more pleasant by encouraging relaxation, mindfulness as well as offering a potential alternative to medications for patients.

The result is a tranquil and relaxing outdoor environment which focuses on sensory stimulation and making the Older Person’s Mental Health Unit a more welcoming place.

Clinical Nurse in the Unit Sarah Challenger said that the garden has been a great success and, with Mental Health Week upon us, a timely reminder of the therapeutic benefits of taking time to get outdoors.

“Having a therapeutic space like the garden and courtyard is so important to patients, visitors and staff as it’s an area where everyone can come together as equals to enjoy some time out of the clinical area.

“A lot of the patients enjoy having a cuppa in the garden area or walking around touching and smelling the different plants and herbs we are growing.

“We have held patient birthdays, BBQ lunches and celebrations in the garden,” said Ms Challenger.

Sarah also said the space is a popular topic of conversation among patients, staff and families.

“Patients have commented that the garden ‘doesn’t feel like I’m in hospital when I’m sitting in the garden’ or ‘every other time I’ve been in hospital there’s never been a space like this for patients- I love it!’”.

The sensory garden forms part of Wishlist’s commitment to supporting mental health projects on the Sunshine Coast. The local hospital foundation has also funded equipment for Adult, Adolescent and Acute Mental Health Units including the provision of musical instruments, Mp3 players and headphones to foster a calming environment for patients.

Queensland Mental Health Week (October 5-13) is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on what all of us can do to look after our mental health and reach out to those who need support.

This year’s theme is Take time–for mental health. Take time is about the simple yet proven things everyone can do to boost mental wellbeing.