Houseplants May Help With Depression, But They Can Also Make It Worse

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This is not going to be a ‘get a plant to cure your depression’ article. I’ve had depression and I’ve had a lot of plants. They do not help me. They cause me stress because I’m too depressed to care for them, and then they die.

I’m not saying that plants DON’T help depression for anyone ever.

I just want to examine the evidence and encourage people to seek help from medical professionals rather than put so much pressure on themselves and some poor Pothos.

I kind of feel like the type of people that recommend things like meditation and house plants to treat depression have never actually had it BUT I also have ADHD so that clouds my judgement a bit.

Mental health issues vary a LOT, and things like depression can be caused by loads of things – it could be situational, hormone imbalances, trauma etc, and therefore different people will find different things helpful.

I actually can’t meditate. It makes me panic. I can do yoga, and focusing on breathing clearing my mind whilst also doing something. I have no interest in journaling. I don’t really have anything to write. This may be to do with having VERY active internal monologue, so I overthink constantly anyway. I have no interest in writing my thoughts down. I’m a writer, journaling is basically working.

House plants can benefit your mental health

They’re pretty and nature is great, and taking care of them can bring a real sense of accomplishment.

If I’m feeling a bit down, overwhelmed, or burnt out, I go for a run and then take care of my plants.

It really really helps.

But I need to stress that, at least for me, feeling low and burnt out is NOT the same as depression.

It’s different for everyone, but for me, when I’m depressed, I have no interest in running or taking care of my plants. I can’t force myself to do either of those things, because when I’m depressed, those things, in my head, are entirely pointless.

Luckily, I don’t get bad depression any more. In my case, I feel like there’s no point to anything for a couple of weeks, and then it lifts. If you have something similar but it doesn’t lift, you need to see a doctor. Buy a plant if you want, but the doctor thing is really key.

The idea of a house plant lifting depression is entirely alien to me. I have no interest in anything when I’m depressed. I just float around. All I can do is read Terry Pratchett novels because they’re the only thing that seems to have a point.

(As I’m writing this, it seems so odd, but the point I’m driving at is that depression manifests itself differently in everyone).

Is there any evidence that houseplants help with depression?

Not that I could find.

There is evidence that house plants can help with boosting your mood, relieving anxiety and stress levels. Humans just seem to feel better when they’re around plants.

I totally agree with this. I love going to botanical gardens, on walks in the countryside, and to garden centres. They definitely lower my stress levels (especially walking) and make me happy (fitting, since I love plants).

But when I’m depressed, I have no interest in those things. A walk *might* help but I’d have to be forced to go on it, and it wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

Interestingly, walking in the countryside can really help me focus – it calms my brain and I can usually think a lot more clearly when I’m walking.

What plant is good for depression?

There are plants that are good for depression, but they usually have to be prepared properly and imbibed.

Many people swear by St. John’s Wort (it interferes with birth control so do your research) as an antidepressant. Ask your doctor about it, but it’s hit and miss as to whether they’ll entertain it or not.

By the way, studies into depression are super interesting. Often, placebos work better in the short term than actual antidepressants and there are a lot of differences to consider when you’re treating mild depression that’s only gone on for a few weeks, compared to treating long-term, severe depression.

More everyday things like camomile and lavender really benefit some people. I like camomile tea as an alternative to caffeine (if I drink caffeine after lunch I will NOT sleep) but I can’t say it’s ever really affected my mood, let alone lifted depression.

Too many house plants can exacerbate depression

I don’t mind that people think that house plants will improve their mental health. In many cases, it’s true. What really bothers me is that this rhetoric is pushed so much that people suffering from poor mental health feels even worse because what’s meant to helping them is making them worse.

Something that plagues most of us, at one point or another, is that feeling that something is wrong with us because X is making us feel Y, when it seems to be for everyone else.

So when you’re depressed and your house plants are making you feel bad because you can’t care for them any more, it can make you feel even worse.

I don’t have a cure for you (other than to go to a doctor), but I do know that it is VERY common, and perfectly fine, to neglect your plants when you’re depressed. It’s totally normal. Concentrate on getting better, and pick up your plant care when you’re able.

Does buying plants make you feel better?

I’m obviously not a mental health professional BUT if you feel down and buying a load of plants makes you feel better, then maybe consider doing a bit of research into ADHD. You can 100% have both! ADHD is the gift that keeps on giving!

There are loads of reasons why buying a plant might make you feel better.

Maybe you saw the plant and are like ‘that’s the most beautiful plant ever and it will complete me’.

Maybe it’s one you’ve been after for a while.

Maybe it’s a freaking BARGAIN.

All of these things can elevate your mood and potentially alleviate stress and anxiety.

Some people like me, are ‘lucky’ and the simple act of buying something (literally anything) releases dopamine in our brain so we crave more. My brain is one of a primitive monkey and cannot be trusted. Luckily I learned this young, otherwise, I would have no money.

It’s always worth trying

If you’re feeling depressed, buy a plant. Go for a walk. Eat a healthy meal. All of these things have the potential to help you out.

Anxiety and stress can be greatly helped (note I put ‘can’, not ‘will’) by these things, which is actually quite annoying.

Nothing worse than someone telling you to go for a run when you’re in a bad mood and it works.

They might even make you feel balanced again. If they do, great, but if they don’t, that’s fine too. That’s what doctors are for.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

2 thoughts on “Houseplants May Help With Depression, But They Can Also Make It Worse”

  1. I found this page through searching about bambino fiddle leaf figs. I have become a plant person recently and it lifted me out of the latest. depressive episode. . But I also have ADHD, and there’s an amazing locally owned plant store 5 blocks from my house, so yeah- perfect storm. New hobby, new purchases, new accomplishments. . . Where is write this exact article about art. What used to be my escape now stresses me out.. . Anyway. Appreciate your point of view. Will now read all your articles and make you my green guru

  2. Welcome! One thing that weirdly helped me when I felt like I had too many plants and it was overwhelming was to buy more so they’re my only clutter/decor. Now when I water and care for my plants, it makes my house look better. It feels more worthwhile and the satisfaction after watering my plants then vacuuming up any soil is immense.

    I suppose it’s basically habit stacking, but it works for me!

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