Houseplants and Mental Health

I have a black thumb. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means I kill plants. You’d think, by now, that I’d see the ferns and cacti leaning away from me at the store -but, no. I see a cute pot or arrangement and think, I can grow a plant! Into my cart the poor once-green thing goes, soon to meet its demise like so many before it.

Isn’t it cute?

My house is full of plants. This is odd, considering my admitting to how often I kill them. People come to my house, look around, and say, “Wow; you must have a green thumb!”

Hiding my black thumbs behind my back I answer, “Why, thank you;” because, as I said, I am not good at raising plants.

At this point, you may be wondering two things:

  1. Why do you have plants if you are bad at caring for them?
  2. Why the heck are we talking about plants? Isn’t this a mental health blog?

The answer is that living with mental illness is an awful lot like maintaining houseplants. Houseplants need a good start so their roots can drain while their soil retains water without drowning them. They need sunlight and regular watering. They even need calming sounds. When I skip or skimp on these things, they suffer.


Likewise, counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or great genes) helps us deal with challenges and triggers in life. Sunlight gives us Vitamin D and cheers us up. We need water so we don’t die. Calmer songs and sounds help with agitation, depression, panic attacks, and stress. When I skip or skimp on these things, I suffer.

I often tell people I struggle with depression. I tell them I have social anxieties, or generalized ones. I admit to deep, dark thoughts and difficult days.

People -even online people- are surprised. All they see are green, growing plants. They don’t see the dead branches I’ve pulled off, the dead leaves I’ve pruned, or even the millipedes I vacuumed out of the roots*. They can’t feel my sadness, isolation, and occasional thoughts of uselessness and despair.

But, knowing I have mental issues hasn’t stopped me from fighting any more than knowing I have a black thumb has stopped me from buying plants.


Because there is no perfect plant -besides the plastic ones at IKEA. Every plant has parts that die off. Every one of them has needed soil conditioners or peat moss, or re-potting.

One of my favorite houseplants is this tree, pictured below. I bought it as a tiny, grocery store discount. I’ve watered it, kept it in the sun, and graduated it to larger pots as it outgrew them. At some points, I thought it wouldn’t make it. I even thought to leave it behind when we moved houses.


Then, I learned better potting techniques. I watered regularly, but not too much. It’s currently taller than I am, and still growing.

Furthermore, do you notice anything about its coloring? The part away from the sun is darker. There are some dead leaves nearer the middle.


Some days I want to give up. I see the discolorations in my character and assume others do as well. I think there is something wrong that needs removal or replacement.

Instead, notice how cool the contrast looks. Notice how darkness gives depth to light.

Maybe the ‘problem’ is that I need more sunshine, a better watering routine, or a calmer environment. Maybe the ‘problem’ is needing more space or nutrients. Or, maybe the ‘problem’ is there isn’t one, because everyone has problems.

And so, I will keep trying. I will keep fighting. And the growth that emerges will be the most beautiful and healthy of all.


*True story with a lemon tree we bought

Photo Credits:
Paula Brustur
Lauren Ferstl
And, Chelsea Owens

16 Replies to “Houseplants and Mental Health”

  1. I can’t even seem to keep virtual plants alive! 😂 If I were to keep houseplants, they would probably be cacti, if anything. However, I don’t think that the cacti would stand a chance against my obnoxious kitty cat. #meow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have kids, not cats, and I should’ve noted that, because one of my plants barely lived through a broom attack last night!

      The houseplants I have are survivors. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Have you thought about being too harsh on yourself? How come you count only the plans that died? How many are slive because of your effort? I struggle with depression (geting better because of efforts) and my plants have as much chance as what they came with. The only exception is a violet that has survived more than 10 years and had offspring. Mostly because I leave it be, water it less etc. And I don’t consider me having a black thumb.
    The point is, it’s s matter of perspective, a matter of belief. Once you start believing in change that you are not bound to same self as you used to be… You are allowed to changed from black to green. The nature, God, Force, whoever runs this place allows it. Allow it yourself.
    I hope it doesn’t sound cheesy. But it helps. Changing a negative mindset to positive. Hard to explain, but I’ve changed a lot in past 2 years in mindset and consequently in less depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true! That’s exactly my problem; on the more positive days, I say that I’m (very slowly) learning a more positive mindset. One counselor even insisted that I didn’t have depression at all, just a negative thought pattern.

      Did you CBT to help with yours?


      1. Thanks. No, there are counselors here but hard to find someone who fits you. So I choose to try getting better on my own. I wanted to see where determination, stubborness, and belief can bring you.
        It’s okay so far. I’ve been to a counseling session twice. It helps to talk to someone, even if they aren’t a real shrink.
        I’d like to talk so much about what I learned on my own… So slow typing on a phone. Now it’s time to put my children to bed. (Slovenia here, 9 pm). I’ll be in touch.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yes, beside the counseling session I mentioned earlier, I started to read a book by David D. Burns, Feeling good: The new mood therapy. It helped me take the right direction. Like not “feeling” but “thinking”. Not generalising but specifying. Little things that add up. I don’t remember what psy. approach this is, but it could as well be CBT.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. CBT is a newer name for approaches I’ve seen in many locations. I think all of these names, tips, directions, etc. are great steps for mental health.


  3. Great post. In lieu of pets or children (and for a long time an actual garden) my house plants became substitutes. I even give them names and talk to them! I’m not always good at tending them though, much like myself so your post really rings true!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Give them names of cities. Like lily London or Casablanca cactus. Or just ‘The pain in the ass’. As long as it’s spoken with humour and tenderness. More joy = more life.

        Liked by 1 person

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