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Mixing Up Mental Health Care

Published July 6, 2016 9:45 AM by Katherine Bortz

Break out the mixer and get to kneading: Baking has been shown to ease mental health symptoms.

Baking and mental health was considered a part of treatment plans after a 2004 study published by The British Journal of Occupational Therapy came to light. More information in recent years has shown other benefits for a range of illnesses, from depression to schizophrenia.

There are many reasons to promote baking in an occupational therapy setting for those with mental health struggles.  Baking increases confidence, fills time, provides “purpose and meaning” and increases coordination. However, these studies have discovered that it doesn’t tackle the root of the problem.

In their 2014 study, “A Road to Mental Health Through the Kitchen,” the Wall Street Journal speaks with a chef who teaches classes in a mental health facility for teenagers. The chef, who saw the benefit of cooking and baking firsthand, said, “The two-hour classes ‘got them to focus on something other than stressful emotions, or what was going on in their day… It redirects their thought process to focus them on the process of cooking."

Many therapists have noted that there is a mindfulness aspect to baking. It is a complex task that requires thought, concentration and attention to detail. Therapists also recommend baking in a group setting to promote healthy communication and build social skills.

These studies have been developed for occupational therapists who work in acute mental health inpatient units. The 2004 study claims that “Occupational therapists are in an ideal position to support such participation [in hospitals and from patients].”

How has working in a kitchen helped your patients? Have you had your own experiences with cooking and mental health? Share with ADVANCE by commenting below! 

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I worked with mental health patients in a transitional facility with bi-polar, schizophrenic, and depressed patients using cooking as a primary modality.  It had the benefits of training in required life skills while also improving attention span, ability to follow directions, improving physical skills, and had a bonus of having delicious food to eat and share after the hard work.  We also used the cooking focus to learn how to shop.  The social benefits were also appearent.  

While many OT's were using cigarettes as a reward for staying on task with this population, I found that the intrinsic rewards of these activities were so plentiful that no extra incentive was needed.

Cindy, OT - OTR/L, Retired July 15, 2016 12:54 AM
Highland Park IL

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