Exposure to a green environment associated with a reduction of depressive symptoms

On 9 February 2021, dr. Hannah Roberts (UU) held the first ODISSEI Lunch Lecture. She presented her research on the influence of different environmental factors on depressive symptoms in the Netherlands. Her research shows that exposure to a green environment is associated with a reduction of depressive symptoms. To come to this conclusion, Roberts has made use of CBS microdata, which she has combined with a survey and GPS data collection. She conducted this research as a postdoctoral researcher in the “Dynamic Urban Environmental Exposures on Depression and Suicide”, or “NEEDS” project of dr. Marco Helbich

So far, most studies that have investigated the influence of environmental factors on mental health, have focused on the impact of a person’s residential environment. Studies that have looked beyond the residential environment have focused on one environmental factor in isolation. In contrast, Roberts and Helbich examined the relationship between combined environmental exposures and depressive symptoms both in the residential environment and beyond. ‘When we do not take into account environments beyond the home, there is a risk that we are overestimating the role of the residential environment. We wanted to approach the role of the environment in terms of mental health in a more realistic way’, Roberts explains.

Together with CBS, they conducted a survey that had 11,505 respondents. Of these respondents, 629 agreed to use an app on their smartphone that would track their movements for seven days. After cleaning the data, for instance by removing people who travelled by plane or by excluding those who hardly collected data points, 393 people remained. The GPS points of each participant represented their daily mobility path. Exposure to green space, blue space, air pollution and noise was calculated for each participant and further enriched with CBS microdata on the social environment. The GPS tracking enabled them to calculate this exposure not just for the participants’ home environment, but also along their daily movements outside of their household.

They calculated environmental exposures within a range of 50m and 100m. Their results suggest that exposure to green space within 50m, both at home and along the daily mobility path, is associated with a reduction in depression symptoms. However, when examining the results separately by gender, the positive influence of green space was observed for men only. Although the reason for this requires further investigation, Roberts suggests it may be due to the different mobility patterns of men and women.

The research demonstrates that it is important to consider not just the residential environment, but also the movements of people outside of their home environment, when investigating the influence of environmental factors on mental health. Moreover, it shows how CBS microdata can be employed not just to conduct survey research among a representative sample, but also to facilitate further highly detailed data collection. Roberts concludes: ‘In my opinion, the wealth of data available via CBS is unmatched elsewhere. It’s an amazing resource for research, whatever question you might have’.

The next ODISSEI Lunch Lecture will be held on 30 March by prof. dr. Rens van de Schoot on ASReview, the active learning software to conduct systematic literature review at a much faster pace. You can find the event page with the abstract here, or register directly here

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Photo by Joep Cox on Unsplash.