It’s something all sensible people know instinctively, but now we know for sure! Growing up in the countryside may protect your mental health as an adult, new research shows.
A study of nearly a million Danes found youngsters who live in green spaces are up to 55 per cent less likely to develop a mental-health disorder in later life.
Green spaces help create sociable communities, as well as encouraging people to exercise, the researchers believe.
This then improves a child’s cognitive development, which may positively impact their mental health.
The research was carried out by Aarhus University in Denmark and led by Dr Kristine Engemann, from the department of bioscience.
More than 450 million people globally suffer from a mental-health disorder, according to the World Health Organization.
The researchers used satellite data collected between 1985 and 2013 to assess the green space around the childhood homes of almost one million Danes.
This data was then compared against the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders later in life, including schizophrenia, anorexia and depression.
Results – published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -revealed people who grow up surrounded by lots of green space are less at risk of a mental-health disorder.
This remained true even after adjusting for socioeconomic status, urbanisation and a family history of mental-health problems.
‘We have had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses, and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up,’ Dr Engemann said.
‘With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10.
‘Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important.
‘There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought.
‘Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population.’
Noise, air pollution, infections and poor socioeconomic conditions increase the risk of a mental disorder, according to the study.
The researchers are calling on city planners to design greener cities to improve the public’s mental health.
Co-author Professor Jens-Christian Svenning added: ‘The coupling between mental health and access to green space in your local area is something that should be considered even more in urban planning to ensure greener and healthier cities, and improve mental health of urban residents in the future.’