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EXPERIENCING HUMANITY
PROF. AMIT BAUMEL'S BLOG

  • Amit Baumel

Picking fruits from a tree could help overcoming depression, but...



I had the privilege of meeting Eyal (in the photo below left to me) during a visit to the organic farm in Hiram – a rehabilitation center for young people in emotional crisis (1). Eyal reminds everyone in simple words of the inseparable connection between our mental well-being, the environment, and the community.


Eyal says: "After picking the fruits from one tree, some individuals no longer have the strength to keep picking fruits, they want to stop. But there are more fruits to pick from many other trees, otherwise the fruits will rot and be wasted. So they find the strength, and it also restores their functionality. This is an important part of the recovery."


People come to Hiram because they suffered from acute mental distress. The organic farm provides an environment for agricultural work as part of their rehabilitation process. The produce is sold to the public. Eyal and the staff design a healing space that allows people to strengthen themselves and reconnect with their surroundings. Along the way, they also prepare nourishing food or some super fresh organic juice for themselves. They breathe in the world.



This environment needs to be specifically designed because it does not naturally exist for most people, at least in the modern era.


Let's say you fall into depression, that's quite possible, right? More than one-fifth of the people in the world will experience depression as a mental illness at some point in their lives (2). Nowadays, it is known that a central component in the treatment of depression is behavioral – the ability of a person to gradually return to activities, preferably those that make them feel good. In the professional jargon, this is called Behavioral Activation (3). After all, someone who is depressed has actually lost the desire, energy, to act in the world. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get out of bed. This desire, to stay in bed, creates a vicious cycle that leads to feeling even more depressed.


If you live in a tribe or community, as humans have been programmed to live for tens of thousands of years of evolution, engaging in productive activity is ingrained in you.


As Eyal explains, when you work as a group towards important goals for your survival, and the need is right in front of you (in this case, fruit that will otherwise go to waste), it is easier for you to return to activity – you simply have to. Therefore, as part of the rehabilitation effort, the farm provides people with motivation that is less present in their natural environment.


This story illustrates how, more than anything, we are programmed to live in a community of people with whom we live and sustain ourselves. In such a community, when we fall, there is someone right next to us reaching out, comforting, and helping us to act. The community is built to create interdependence between people who need each other and contribute to each other, and this interdependence is healthy for the soul. It is our natural inclination.


Ironically, in an urban society, crowded with people, this sense of community is not necessarily present. We don't even know our neighbors very well. Humans have been liberated from dependence on people they didn't choose to be dependent on, and that's an advantage. But humans have also been liberated from the social ingredients that can lift them up in difficult times and help them feel happy in better times.


For this reason we need angels like Eyal and the entire team at Hiram. Those who persevere, sacrifice, and contribute in order to build and create a communal space where these processes can naturally occur.


Be well.


 

References

1. https://hiram.org.il/en/ Accessed on June 26 2023

2. Shorey, S., Ng, E. D., & Wong, C. H. (2022). Global prevalence of depression and elevated depressive symptoms among adolescents: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(2), 287-305.

3. Stein, A. T., Carl, E., Cuijpers, P., Karyotaki, E., & Smits, J. A. (2021). Looking beyond depression: A meta-analysis of the effect of behavioral activation on depression, anxiety, and activation. Psychological Medicine, 51(9), 1491-1504.

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