We all enjoy being in nature because it makes us feel good. Well, new research shows that it is actually good for our mental health! Growing up surrounded by green space has been found to reduce the risk of developing various mental health disorders later in life by up to 55%. Although it may seem obvious (like common sense) that the level of exposure to the natural environment positively impacts mental health, few studies have assessed this connection and its specifics, until now.
A new study from Aarhus University, Denmark, shows that children who grow up with greener surroundings have a better chance of not developing mental health problems as they age. They conducted this research to emphasize the need for designing green and healthy cities for the future. The study was published in the American Journal PNAS.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 450 millions of the global human population suffer from a mental disorder. They also (unfortunately) state that the number is only expected to rise. Could this be because a larger and larger share of the world’s population now lives in cities and they are not green enough? Could we possibly reverse this statistic by designing our cities to incorporate more and more greenery? Aarhus University certainly believes the answer is yes and yes!
Postdoc Kristine Engemann from Department of Bioscience and the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University, who spearheaded this study, said:
“Our data is unique. We have had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up. With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10. Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important.”
- High resolution satellite data was collected from 1985 to 2013. (Ranged within a 210 × 210 m square around each person’s place of residence.)
- The presence of green space around the childhood homes of almost one million Danes was mapped out to calculate the normalized difference vegetation index through the years. (Childhood in this research was people from birth to the age of ten.)
- The data was then compared with the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders.
- They found that the children with a higher level of green space presence had a lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life. This association stood true even after adjusting for other known risk factors such as socio-economic status, urbanization, and the family history of mental illness.
- They also found that the presence of green space throughout all years of childhood is important. (It makes a difference if it’s only one year, for example.)
This study strongly support the necessity for developing cities to really strive for maximum integration of natural environments into urban planning and, consequently, childhood life. Likewise, it is important for cities now to begin implementing additional greenery into their cityscape. Such efforts will result in overall better mental health for all its inhabitants in the present, and into the future.
This knowledge has important implications for sustainable urban planning since a growing proportion of the world’s population lives in cities. Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, co-author of the study adds:
“The coupling between mental health and access to green space in your local area is something that should be considered even more in urban planning to ensure greener and healthier cities and improve mental health of urban residents in the future.”
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