Living in greener areas can improve mental health

According to a new study published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology, living near green spaces can have long-lasting positive effects on people's mental health. Those who move to greener areas have an almost immediate improvement in their mental health and the positive trend continues for at least three years after the initial move. Conversely, individuals who move to urban areas that are heavily populated suffer a drop in their emotional well-being.

The United States Centers of Disease Control (CDC) defines the term mental illness as referring collectively to all mental disorders that are diagnosable and cause sustained abnormal alterations in thinking, mood or behavior. In 2012, the World Health Organization cited depression as the leading cause of mental health disability around the world.

In response to their findings, the researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School wrote that more green spaces – such as parks – should be considered and built by state and federal governments. The scientists studied over 1,000 participants who were in the process of moving to either less developed parts of the country or more densely built urban environments. The authors of the study adjusted their analysis to eliminate other factors – like income, employment and education – to get a more accurate reading for their hypothesis.

This study is significant because it can impact how cities and towns are built in the future and can even save taxpayer money. In 2002 alone, the cost of mental health in the US was $300 billion, as nearly 25 percent of the country suffers from some kind of disease. Dr. Matthew White, one of the study's co-authors, hopes the long-term data collected will benefit city planners around the world.

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