Research Summary

Can neighborhood green space mitigate health inequalities? A study of socio-economic status and mental health

Researchers call for further investigations into the potential of neighborhood green space for lessening socio-economic related mental health inequalities

Health & Place
2016

A question addressed in this study was whether living in a neighborhood with a larger park area might reduce the expected psychological distress associated with a poorer neighborhood. Previous studies had suggested this might be so.

Data for this study was based on over 7000 results of a survey administered by the Department of Health of Western Australia. The survey included the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale with questions about anxiety and depressive episodes experienced by a person within the last four weeks. Additional data was collected on the socio-economic status (SES) of the respondents’ neighborhoods and the characteristics (area and attractiveness) of parks in the neighborhoods.

Park area measures were based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) readings. A desktop audit tool based on remote sensing techniques (such as Google Earth) was used for assessing park attractiveness. Nine different attributes were considered: lawn irrigation, walking paths, shade along paths, sporting facilities, being adjacent to a beach or river, water features, bird life, surrounding roads, and lighting. Other park attributes potentially influencing mental health – including safety and maintenance – were not assessed.

The results of this study indicated that residents in lower SES areas are more likely than those in higher SES areas to experience higher levels of psychological distress. The results did not support the idea that the psychological distress might be moderated by local green space. Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that it is unclear if enhancing parks in low SES areas would reduce mental health inequalities. They do suggest, however, that further investigations should be done and that such research should include an assessment of safety and maintenance features of parks, as well as street-level greenery, to see if enhanced local green space might lessen socio-economic mental health inequalities.