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Aarhus University Denmark study finds mental disorders more common in environments which lack green areas

A new study from the Aarhus University in Denmark has found a connection between green space around family homes and prevalence of mental disorders later in life.

The paper analysed children – specifically from birth to the age of 10 – and then correlated the findings against mental disorders which developed as they grew older. The results were significant; those who did not grow up in greener areas, with less access to nature and natural habitats, were 55% more likely to develop mental health issues.

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In conducting the study, lead researcher Kristine Engemann and her team were fortunate to have access to a huge amount of data from the Danish registry, and therefore the breadth of the study incorporates information from almost one million people. In conjunction with decades of satellite imagery and medical records, Engemann was able to establish an impact on mental health as authentic as factors such as wealth and medical history.

The access to the Danish registry also provided information on education and income, which allowed to team to account for a number of other variables, strengthening their findings even further. And from their investigation, another notable result emerged: the longer that children were in contact with green spaces, the more the risk decreased.

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..the effect of green space was “dosage dependent” — the more of one’s childhood spent close to greenery, the lower the risk of mental health problems in adulthood.”  Kristine Engemann

For those raised in less leafy environments, sixteen mental disorders appeared most significantly, and these included substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Showing that the environment we are exposed to early in our life has such a strong impact on our mental development is certainly something to consider as parents.

Kelly Lambert, of the University of Richmond, suggests that the scale and ramifications of this research are both compelling and extensive; “If we were talking about a new medicine that had this kind of effect the buzz would be huge, but these results suggest that being able to go for a walk in the park as a kid is just as impactful.

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As a study of correlation, the reasons behind this are still being analysed, but the research does show that the connection is there. While being unable to determine causation, the study is complimented by many more which have indicated that greenery is good for us. Green spaces have shown improvements in cognitive development, decreased depression and high blood pressure, or simply elevated feelings of well-being.

However, on a purely intuitive level, there is already a general awareness of this in society – being in nature has a revitalising impact, while being in cities can likewise negatively affect us. What this study establishes is that, with empirical data such as this, the importance of greenery cannot be dismissed so easily. Urban living is on the rise, and with mental health becoming both a more recognised and treatable phenomenon, urban planners of the future need to incorporate these discoveries into metropolitan environments in order to create a better standard of living for city-dwellers.

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Steve Wright

With a masters in Science Communication and a background in media, Steve Wright is an authority on all things scientific, as well as sustainability and consciousness. A Junior Designer and Contributor to My Good Planet, Steve specialises in making complicated material seem accessible and simple for all.