natural settings such as parks, forests, and beaches is associated with
improved mental health, according to a large international study. The
new findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
been exploring the relationships between time spent in around water
environments (rivers, lakes the sea) and psychological health for over a
decade but all of our work was conducted in the United Kingdom so we
didn’t know whether these findings generalized across different
countries and cultures,” said study author Mathew P. White, a social and environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Medical School.
were lucky enough to get a grant from the European Union to explore
these issues and this paper is one output from a large survey conducted
across 18 countries to explore these international comparisons. The
larger aim was to see whether better urban planning and management could
integrate water into cityscapes to benefit mental and physical health
while also reducing the risks (flooding, drowning, etc.) but first of
all we needed to see what the benefits might be.”
their new study, the researchers examined data from 16,307 individuals
who had completed an online survey between June 2017 and April 2018.
They found that people who visited green spaces more often tended to
also report having better psychological well-being and less mental
distress. The same was true of those who visited inland and coastal blue
spaces. The findings held even after controlling for factors such as
age, education, income, relationship status, and physical activity.
not going to surprise anyone — especially after the last 12 months —
but spending time in natural settings is good for mental health. This is
well established already but like I say never before in such a large
international study — where we basically found pretty similar findings
across country — with some differences (e.g. coastal visits were more
strongly associated with mental health in countries such as France),”
White told PsyPost.
real importance of the study was in showing how large these effects
were relative to other things we also know are important to mental
health such as income, family relationships, long-standing illness,
research team had previously found that people with depression tended
to visit nature as frequently as people with no mental health issues,
while people with anxiety were visiting nature significantly more often.
But the benefits of visiting green/blue spaces seemed to be undermined
when the visits were not by choice.
“When paired with an earlier paper from the same dataset we published last year (Tester Jones et al., 2020)
we see that people with depression and anxiety are high users of
nature, possibly as self-management — though we are cautious about
‘green/blue prescriptions’ if they are not linked to self-determined
The new findings are in line with several longitudinal studies. For example, a study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology,
which followed people over a five year period, found that people who
moved to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental
health that was sustained for at least 3 years after they moved.
of course, even longitudinal data still has problems and I continue to
worry whether these effects are still due to richer, healthier people
being able to afford to live in nicer areas and have time to spend in
nicer places,” White said.
“Fortunately, other data suggest that
the benefits are actually most likely to occur for the poorest in
society. If this is true, this is the real message for health
professional and planners — perhaps we can reduce mental health
inequalities through better urban planning and improved access to high
quality green and blue spaces.”
The study, “Associations between green/blue spaces and mental health across 18 countries“,
was authored by Mathew P. White, Lewis R. Elliott, James Grellier, Theo
Economou, Simon Bell, Gregory N. Bratman, Marta Cirach, Mireia Gascon,
Maria L. Lima, Mare Lõhmus, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Ann Ojala, Anne Roiko,
P. Wesley Schultz, Matilda van den Bosch, and Lora E. Fleming.