Baking bread reduces anxiety and increases happiness in those struggling with mental health, according to a study by the Real Bread Campaign.

The pilot study, called Bethlem Baking Buddies, comprised six two-hour baking sessions for resident mental health care service users at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Kent.

During the first session, participants learned how to make a basic white dough, which was shaped into bread twists. Subsequent weeks saw them use the same dough recipe but with additional flavours and shaping techniques. After baking, participants were asked a series of weekly evaluation questions to determine the impact the activity had on their mental health and wellbeing.

Every one of five the participants said they felt happier, more creative and gained a sense of achievement from baking, while the majority reported it gave them a sense of purpose, made them more relaxed and, in two-thirds of cases, less anxious.

The study forms part of the campaign’s Together We Rise initiative, which is designed to promote the therapeutic, social and educational opportunities of baking bread by hand. The programme ran from 21 April to 26 May 2017, with the results published this month.

The Real Bread Campaign believes this study, alongside the 2013 report Rising Up, should be used as evidence to help bolster interest and gain funding for these sorts of initiatives in the future.  

“What we found further supports the campaign’s belief that making Real Bread can offer therapeutic benefits to some people who are experiencing mental health problems, and that therapeutic baking deserves further study, funding and [should] even [be] made available through social prescription,” explained campaign co-ordinator Chris Young, who wrote the report.

In the report, Young also offers practical advice for those looking to run similar sessions, such as running them hands-on rather than demonstration-based, keeping the recipe simple and using domestic equipment, so participants feel they can produce similar results at home.

The campaign is now working on a sequel to Rising Up, expected to be published in 2018, and is looking for stories and statistics from organisations that have run therapeutic or social baking projects and those who have taken part in them.