How our environment affects our mental health
Many of us grow up, and even live, in one specific environment. Our upbringing and daily lives have certain characteristics based on where we live; in a city, a town or in the middle of nowhere. Our lives are so greatly impacted by whether we have spent time inside, went on many outdoor adventures, and our proximity to lakes and oceans.
We are so tightly tied to our surroundings that it only makes sense that spending time in urban and rural environments differently impacts and alters our mental and physical health. This being said, these days, us city slickers are so far removed from nature that it is easy to forget the necessity of a daily dose of outside world. Think for a moment; what one aspect of nature could you not live without?
For me, the connection that I desire most is easy to pinpoint. I grew up in New Zealand where I believe it is not possible to be more than half an hour from the ocean. I cannot live away from the ocean. I need the ocean so intensely that when I spent five weeks in interior Canada –the longest I’ve been without ocean- I cried on the plane at the sight of Vancouver’s ocean. With this connection in mind it is difficult not to consider the impacts of the rapid depletion of natural environments on our mental health.
Nature impacts us so strongly that studies have shown that when a patient in hospital faces a natural landscape rather than a brick wall, they will recover more quickly. It affects our mental health too. According to BBC -who, it must be noted, undoubtedly benefits from our consumption of their documentaries- that just by watching a nature documentary we feel happier.We don’t even have to leave the house to get natures relief, something that we definitely require.
So it comes as no surprise that those of us who live in urban settings are at a higher risk of having mental health issues. In one study in Great Britain, it was shown that there were higher levels of alcohol and drug dependence in urban areas. The people living in these urban areas were also more prone to social deprivation, stress and adverse living situations, which are all linked to substance abuse and poor mental health.
This is not the only evidence regarding mental health and urban living; there is plenty of other research on the topic. One article in the Industrial Psychiatric Journal not only draws a correlation between mental health and modern urbanization, but also states that women are more at risk than men. It is thought that socioeconomic stress is a factor. It also states that those who are poor and living in urban settings are more liking to feel the detrimental mental health effects of urbanization.
Much of what the studies say seems commonsensical. For example, it makes sense that poorer individuals would suffer more in urban areas, where almost every activity requires money and where it is difficult to be self-sufficient. The benefit of these studies lie in the fact that they provide a backdrop to begin arguing for more active preservation of nature. They show us not only the visible symptoms of a society, which is struggling to maintain its communal and individual mental health, but the instigating factors.
There are people out there who are working to further understand these social issues and have already done the hard work of research for us. The next step is for us to step up as individuals and communities and use our power and potential to encourage the preservation of nature. For the sake of our collective mental health, we need to act to preserve urban nature.
By Annalisse Crosswell