Nearly 10 years after the term "nature deficit disorder" entered the nation's vocabulary, research is showing for the first time that green space does appear to improve mental health in a sustained way. The report, which appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, gives urban park advocates another argument in support of their cause.
Mathew P. White and colleagues note that mental well-being is a major public health issue, with unipolar depressive disorder the leading cause of disability in middle- to high-income countries. Some research suggests that part of the blame for this unhappiness lies in increased urbanization -- nearly 80 percent of the world's population in more developed regions live in city environments, which tend to have little room for nature. Other studies suggest a link between happiness and green space, but no research had convincingly established cause and effect of nature on well-being over time. To help fill that gap, White's team decided to examine the issue.
To figure out if nature makes people feel better in the long run, they compared the mental health of hundreds of people in the U.K. who went from a grey urban setting to a greener one with those who moved in the opposite direction. Mental health data showed that the people who moved to greener areas were happier during all three years that their health was tracked after relocating. "Moving to greener urban areas was associated with sustained mental health improvements, suggesting that environmental policies to increase urban green space may have sustainable public health benefits," the researchers conclude.
The authors acknowledge funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.
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