Enabling access to green and blue spaces could improve people’s mental health and reduce pressure on the NHS, a new academic study has shown.
Green space is characterised as an area of grass, trees or other vegetation that has been ringfenced for either recreational or aesthetic purposes in an otherwise urban environment – i.e., a park. Blue space is essentially the collective term for rivers, lakes or the sea.
A study team found that the further people live away – measured in 360 metre increments – from these areas, the more likely they are to experience anxiety or depression.
While the benefits of green space are well documented, the scale of the research represents the largest, most comprehensive evaluation of how differences in access to things like lakes, parks and beaches can impact mental health. This lends itself to a new level of understanding for researchers.
The team was led by experts from the University of Liverpool, who examined data spanning a 10-year period that included GP records of anxiety and depression from more than two million adults in Wales.
Although investment in public green spaces may deliver mental health improvements to everyone, those living in the more deprived areas stand to benefit the most, according to the researchers.
The team now want more studies to be conducted in this area – mainly to understand the mechanisms behind why people in low-income areas are affected differently to those in higher-income places.
The researchers, who were funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, believe this will ensure the people who need it most get access to green and blue spaces, ultimately protecting public health.
“This brilliant study gives us three reasons to be cheerful,” said Richard Mitchell, a professor of health and environment at the University of Glasgow. “First, it confirms that natural environments around us really do benefit our mental health.
“Second, the benefits seem strongest for those most at risk, so there’s huge potential for tackling the gulf in health between richer and poorer people. Third, the study shows what great science we can do in the UK using our world-leading health datasets safely and securely.”
To access the full study, click here.
Image credit: iStock