As a researcher I am interested in the how our surroundings can affect our health.

Green spaces photo

Mental health and wellbeing problems are a growing public concern

One in four of us living in the UK will experience a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression during our lifetime. With mental health conditions costing the UK economy over £100 billion a year, promoting how people can take care of their mental health is of growing importance.

Previous research has suggested that spending time outdoors in natural environments, such as parks and beaches, can help support and promote good mental health and wellbeing.  The theory is that getting outside and spending time in the natural environment helps to improve our mental health through a number of different methods – for example, by increasing our physical activity, providing us with a place to relax, giving us opportunities to spend time with friends, family and other social interactions such as chatting with passers-by.

Opportunities to make improvements to the urban environment

The United Nations projects that by 2030, urban areas will house 60 per cent of the world’s population with one in three people living in a town or city. With an increase in the number of people living in this environment there are great opportunities to make improvements to surroundings that can help large numbers of people live healthier lifestyles.

This is where our new study comes in

The aim of the Green-Blue Spaces Study is to investigate whether a change in access to the natural environment, has an impact on people’s mental health. This change may be for example because a new park may open or a new housing estate may be built.

Our team, which includes experts in health, geography, data linkage, statistics, and psychology from Swansea, Liverpool, Exeter and Cardiff universities and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health are working together on this world leading, three year study.

We will look at health and environmental data for 1.7 million people in Wales to explore how people change their use of health services (such GP visits) as their local environment changes.

Because the influence of green and blue spaces take time to change health, the team will use historical data from the past 11 years (2008-2018).

The aim is to determine whether a positive change in access to green-blue spaces such as parks, woods, rivers and beaches lowers the risk of anxiety and depression.

Providing robust evidence to help change policy and practice

Our urban environment is managed by town planners, architects, policy makers, engineers, etc. –and moving forward with the project it is important for us to consult and consider how to translate our research findings into useful tools for those who manage these areas, with an overall aim of improving both the environment and public health.

For more information on this project please download the video on YouTube.

Dr Amy Mizen is a researcher at Swansea University Medical School. Her research interests include the role of the environment on obesity and mental health. 

This project was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research (project number or ref PHR – 16/07/07)

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.


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