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'Soul relief': On Greek island, bees help people with mental health issues

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On a hillside overlooking the crystal blue waters of Greece's Leros island, a small group of workers in protective gear are busy smoking beehives.

But these are not ordinary beekeepers -- some of them are patients from the nearby psychiatric hospital, participating in a two-decade project combining therapy with professional fulfilment.

The social cooperative in Leros, housed in a former barracks known as the Caserma estate, is the first of its kind in Greece.

The cooperative "aims to socially and professionally integrate persons with psychosocial problems", project manager and occupational therapist Andreas Georgiou said. "Through the programme [...] they acquire self-respect and self-esteem."

On the fields of the estate, patients care for the bees and cultivate their high-quality diet -- lavender, oregano and other aromatic herbs.

"This is a bee's paradise," Georgiou said.

In Lepida, to the south of the port, the employees pack and label the honey, and dry the herbs in dedicated rooms inside the psychiatric hospital. The estate produce is then sold in various locations on the island.

"I love what I do here, it's a real relief for the soul," Artemis, a patient in his 60s said as he sealed honey jars. "We try to be as traditional and pure here as possible."

The Leros cooperative employs 13 salaried workers, supervised by specialist beekeepers, in addition to a team of nurses and occupational therapists from the island's psychiatric hospital.

While some patients live in the asylum, a large number are allowed to live in flats on the island for better integration into society.

A handful of people have been able to make a full rehabilitation through the cooperative, Georgiou said.

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