Greener Pastures for the Mind

Mental distress lower and wellbeing higher in people living near community parks

(RxWiki News) Enjoying a community park is a great way to relax and take in a little nature. Having a park nearby may even lower stress and promote a sense of well-being.

A recent study evaluated the effects of community gardens and parks on a large group of people over the course of several years.

The researchers found that community green space had the power to reduce mental distress and improve the well-being of community members.

"Support parks in your community."

Mathew White, PhD, from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School in Cornwall, United Kingdom, led an investigation into the effects of green space, such as parks, on the mental health and well-being of people living in urban areas.

“The World Health Organization (2008) states that unipolar depressive disorders are now the leading cause of disability in middle- to high-income countries. Evidence is growing that this rise may, in part, be associated with increased urbanization and detachment from the kinds of natural environments people evolved in and are thus best adapted to,” said the authors.

For the study, 10,168 individuals living in the UK were surveyed between 1991 and 2008 with the British Household Panel Survey.

Green land space, such as community gardens and parks, was calculated in the areas of the participant’s neighborhoods.

The household surveys asked questions to gauge each participant’s mental health, mental distress, satisfaction with life and overall sense of well-being.

The researchers found that a greater amount of green space in a person’s neighborhood was associated with an increase in that person’s well-being scores and lowered mental distress scores.

To put it in perspective, the researchers compared the effects of green space on mental distress and well-being to the effects of employment status and marriage status on mental distress and well-being.

Many previous studies have looked at employment and marital status in relation to mental distress and emotional well-being and found that both employment and marriage can reduce mental distress and promote emotional well-being.

Living in an area with slightly above average green space was associated with:

  • One-third of the value that being married has on mental distress.  
  • One-tenth the value that being employed has on mental distress.
  • One-quarter the effect that being married has on life satisfaction.
  • One-fifth the effect that being employed has on life satisfaction.

The authors concluded that, based on their findings, people were generally happier when living in urban areas with greater amounts of green space.

In this large sample, people living in areas with green space reported lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of well-being.

The results remained consistent even after the researchers made adjustments for crime rates, income levels, employment status, marital status, health and type of housing in which they lived.

The authors said that parks and gardens may impact individuals in a small way, but could greatly benefit the mental health and well-being of an entire community.

This study was published in April in Psychological Science.

The European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly provided funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
April 18, 2013