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New Study Finds Link Between Tree Access & Antidepressant Use

Woman On Meadow Of Cypress Trees Alley In Sunlight
Image by ADDICTIVE CREATIVES / Stocksy
January 27, 2021

From promoting physical health to helping us connect to the Earth, natural green space comes with many benefits. And according to new research published in the journal Nature, you can add a mental health boost to the list1. In the study, a team of European researchers found that the more trees that lined the streets of a neighborhood, the fewer antidepressants were prescribed to its inhabitants—in Germany, at least.

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Studying urban green space.

For the research, the team looked for correlations between the number of trees in a given area and the number of antidepressants prescribed, to find out whether "everyday" green space can positively affect mental health.

They looked at data from nearly 10,000 residents in one German city to get numbers on antidepressant scripts and then compared those numbers with the number (and species) of trees on streets throughout the city. And sure enough, those who had more trees within a 100-meter radius of their homes were less likely to be prescribed an antidepressant.

Importantly, these findings were especially true for marginalized groups with low socioeconomic status (who are already at a greater risk for depression). This further supports the idea that increasing the amount of greenery in a neighborhood is a good investment in public health and a relatively affordable one at that.

Why does green space appear to be so beneficial to mental health?

According to environmental psychologist and lead author of the study Melissa Marselle, Ph.D., the specific mechanisms behind why trees in urban areas are beneficial aren't fully understood—but there are theories. "There are two explanations based on theory and previous research: physical activity and psychological restoration," she tells mbg.

"Stress and poor attentional functioning are risk factors for depression," she explains. And previous research has found that views of trees and other vegetation can reduce stress2. Views of nature may also enhance cognition, according to earlier studies that found that "adults with low socio-economic status living in social housing who had a view of nearby trees from their homes reported greater attentional functioning3."

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The bottom line.

Simply put: Planting more trees in urban areas appears to be a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the stress of its residents—and "help close the gap in health inequalities between economically different social groups," Marselle notes in a news release.

Not for nothing, planting trees is, of course, good for the planet, too. And with much of the globe still dealing with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a view of nature from the comfort of your own home has never been more important.

Going forward, the team hopes their research will encourage local leaders to up their eco-efforts, plant more trees along their city streets, and plant them "equally in residential areas," Marselle adds, "to ensure those who are socially disadvantaged have equal access to receive its health benefits."

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