New sensory garden will support good mental health | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

New sensory garden will support good mental health

A Dargaville clinic is building a new sensory garden to help relieve distress in people who battle mental illness and addictions.

The 13m by 12m garden will be built at Dargaville Hospital, outside its Mental Health & Addictions clinic. The idea for the garden came from clinic staff and is supported by people who attend there for treatment.

A group gathered for an early-morning turf-turning ceremony at the site followed by breakfast on 1 February. Among those present were some descendants of Te Awha Parore, one of three chiefs from whom Joseph Dargaville purchased land for the town.  Dargaville Hospital itself is built on land originally gifted by Chief Parore Te Awha for the purpose of a hospital.

Community Mental Health and Addiction team leader Elaine Parks says the service is client-focused in that those who use it are involved in making decisions to aid their own recovery and a sensory garden will help with that process.

“A garden will be for everyone to enjoy some quiet peaceful time away from the stressors of life. The beauty of having a sensory garden is that it can be enjoyed by the whole community,” she says.  

Photo: Pictured from left to right are four descendants of Parore Te Awha: Jade Paniora, Narina Larsen, kaumatua Sonny Nesbit and Jackie Whippy. (All those in the photo are within a bubble and so no masks were worn for this photo).

The garden will comprise of plants, trees, secluded seating areas, a water feature, pathways, vegetables in raised beds, and other features that stimulate the five senses.

Clinic attendees have been consulted on what the sensory garden should include and were asked for their input on its design.

The clinic also uses consumer-facilitated coping skills programmes to assist people to improve their conditions and to reduce the distress of mental illness or addiction, says Ms Park.

The service also has a team of volunteers who, in addition to facilitating wellness and resilience programmes, run a support group and talk to ill people so they don’t feel alone. Volunteers assist and advise others about what is available locally and regionally to help people manage their illnesses. The volunteers also provide more eyes and ears in looking out for anyone in distress who may need therapeutic intervention.

There is also a volunteer-created walking group, to help with self-care and distraction activities for people to focus on.

Co-volunteer Robyn Downey says people who achieve some mental health recovery are also able to support others.

“I believe the sensory garden will be an exciting and a welcome addition to the clinic’s already effective set of resources. It will be a meeting place for support and friendship and for general mental wellness. Before I started on the ongoing road towards recovery, I had lost my life as I knew it to be, following a mental breakdown. It wasn’t until I was able to find others at the clinic, who had been through a similar experience, that I found the healing really began.”

Work on the sensory garden is expected to start shortly and it is hoped that it will be completed by the end of March 2022.

The clinic staff welcome anyone who may be interested in volunteering for maintaining the sensory garden, can contact Elaine Parks on the Dargaville Hospital number 09 439 3330 and ask to be put through to Community Health.

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