Mental health: green spaces essential to reduce inequalities?

Mental health: green spaces essential to reduce inequalities?

Science has already repeatedly highlighted the need to increase the vegetation cover of cities to preserve the health of the population, and even reduce mortality linked to heatwaves. But improving the accessibility of green spaces would also reduce socio-economic inequalities in mental health, and promote the well-being of people living in the most deprived areas, as revealed by a new study.

The role of nature on health, physical and mental, has been the subject of a multitude of scientific publications for several years, and even more since the Covid-19 pandemic. Which showed how important it was to live near parks, wooded areas, and other green spaces to benefit from a breath of fresh air essential for well-being and the body. Recent studies have notably highlighted the fact that regular contact with nature could limit the use of medications, slow down cellular aging, improve the behavior of schoolchildren, and of course maintain good physical shape. .

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, in partnership with an international team, go even further by showing that improving green spaces, in terms of quantity and accessibility, could also reduce socio-economic inequalities in terms of Mental Health. Published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, their work highlights the need to invest in green spaces, such as parks, fields, or wooded areas, to allow the entire population to benefit from their benefits on mental health. Investment which would be even more favorable to people living in the most disadvantaged areas.

Benefits for all

While the effects of green spaces on mental health have been well documented, using medical records from an entire adult population over such a long period brings a new level of understanding to this work.“, we can read in the preamble in a press release. More than two million adults living in Wales were included in this study which sought to examine and compare several data, including the proximity of green spaces, accessibility to green and blue spaces, and the incidence of certain mental health disorders, all over a period of ten years.

Our study showed that green and blue spaces are likely to protect people from needing to see their GP for anxiety or depression, and in places where people have fewer resources in general, living near these spaces appears to have a greater protective effect than for people living in areas with more resources“, explains Sarah Rodgers, researcher at the University of Liverpool.

Among the main lessons of the study is the importance of living near an area of ​​greenery or a blue space, such as a lake, a marina, or the sea, to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression. . In detail, the researchers indicate that every additional distance of 360 meters from the nearest green or blue space is associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression. An observation which pushes the authors of the study to emphasize the need to invest in improving these natural bubbles to promote the well-being of the entire population, and more particularly of people living in areas with lower income.

Further research

It now remains to determine the factor(s) explaining why people living in the most disadvantaged areas and those living in high-income areas do not react in the same way to the accessibility and exposure of these green and blue spaces. Which should lead to more in-depth studies on the subject. “We must ensure that the people who need it most and who will benefit the most have access to these free green and blue spaces, in order to help protect the health of our population.“, explain the authors of the study.

Richard Mitchell, professor of health and environment at the University of Glasgow, is delighted with these conclusions: “This brilliant study gives us (two) reasons to rejoice. First, it confirms that the natural environments around us are actually beneficial for our mental health. Second, the benefits appear greatest for those most at risk, suggesting enormous potential for closing the health gap between rich and poor people.“.