A new study has suggested that unintentional daily contact with nature through street trees close to the home may help reduce the risk of depression.
The study, titled, Urban street tree biodiversity and antidepressant prescriptions, published in open-access online journal, Nature, analysed the association of street tree density and species richness with antidepressant prescribing for 9,751 inhabitants of Leipzig, Germany.
The researchers said they found a lower rate of antidepressant prescriptions for people living within 100 metres of a higher density of street trees.
The researchers said the study was further proof that growing urbanisation is a threat to both mental health and biodiversity.
They stressed that the study has important implications for urban planning and nature-based health interventions in cities.
“Our finding suggests that street trees — as small-scale, publicly accessible urban green space — could contribute to an “equigenic environment,” i.e. nature-based solutions that can help close the gap in health inequalities between individuals.
“Incorporating unintentional nature experience into everyday life around the home could be important for mental health. As such, street trees should be planted equally throughout a city to ensure those who are socially disadvantaged have equal access to nearby nature, thereby safeguarding urban health equity and preventing green gentrification.
“We propose that retrofitting greenspace, namely street trees, in urban areas may promote mental health, reduce social inequalities and contribute to multiple Sustainable Development Goals,” the researchers said.
While noting that mental health outcomes are influenced by the type of environment people reside and its ecological quality, the researchers said evidence from studies can inform required policy changes, planning, and management decisions necessary to ensure that the urban forest has a positive impact on both public health and nature conservation.
They added that health professionals, urban foresters, city planners, and urban designers can be also be guided by evidence from studies on the importance of a green environment.
The study stated that with the projection that 5.2 billion people are expected to live in urban areas by 2030, more steps are needed to reduce future risks to both people and nature.
“Urban nature-based solutions, such as planting trees, might be a preventative solution to tackle both mental health challenges and biodiversity loss.
“As such, growing the urban forest could address the nexus between sustainable and healthy cities and aid progress towards Sustainable Development Goals on human health and wellbeing, creating sustainable cities and conserving terrestrial ecosystems.
“In order to address these SDGs–and because space in cities is scarce due to increasing urbanisation–policymakers, urban planners and designers need information about which specific aspects of the urban forest influence human health,” the study said.
The researchers noted that more knowledge is needed on the types of urban greenspace that have benefit for mental health, but stressed that street trees would also provide various ecosystem services for human health and well-being, such as air quality and climate change adaptation.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression is a common illness worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected.
Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family, WHO stated
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise on the significance of the study, a Lagos-based clinical psychologist, Olabode Daramola, said the study only confirmed what experts already knew.
He said that, as a clinical psychologist, he was aware that society must do more to encourage green environment by cultivating nature.
“It is an age long fact in the field of ‘psycho-infrastructuralism’ that human behaviours are influenced by the way the environment is structured.
“Nature, as perceived by people, can help stabilise the mood. Man is created not to live alone but with nature.
“The greenery is a positive impulse for the brain and helps in mood stability.
“Constant exposure to nature, especially in recreational activities, will help mood stability and in turn prevent depression,” he said.
The clinical psychologist disclosed that he had a personal experience during the COVID-19 lockdown which further affirmed the importance of nature to improving mood and mental health.
“During the lockdown, I planted a garden along with my children, we wet it morning and evening and by the time they began to grow, it was pleasing to the eyes, helping the mood and the products soothing to the mouth.
“So, constant contact with nature is surely good for improving human health,” he said.
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