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Living Near Green Public Spaces Can Reduce Depression By 70 Percent

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Nature indeed has remarkably healing abilities. Findings of a new study have found the removing trash and planting grasses and trees in vacant lots can make people happier and reduce symptoms of depression.

Effects Of Clean And Green Public Spaces

In a new study published in JAMA Network on Friday, July 20, researchers reported that converting empty lots into clean and green space can significantly reduce depression in residents within a quarter mile.

Study researcher Eugenia South, from University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and colleagues looked at 541 vacant lots around Philadelphia. Grasses and trees were planted in a third of these lots, and another third had the trash removed.

The researchers then tracked the emotional state of 342 locals from 2011 to 2014 during the period of the cleanup study. They found that the residents in areas where there were greening or trash removal projects experienced reduced feeling of depression by about 40 percent. Residents in neighborhoods below the poverty line reported reduced feeling of depression by 70 percent.

South and colleagues also found that those who lived near renovated lots had reduced feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and overall poor mental health. In people who lived in lots that were not cleaned, levels of depressions stayed the same or only changed slightly.

The residents themselves noticed the beneficial changes.

"It's a beautiful thing to have a clean lot, it makes me happy," said North Philadelphia resident Renee Holly. "Now, our neighborhood kids don't have to play in a lot with glass and trash."

Tool For Mental Health Problems

The researchers said that renovating vacant plants can serve as a useful tool that can help address mental health problems. Although green space cannot replace medications and other traditional therapies to address depression, South said that it can work with those treatments and provide additional benefit that can affect an entire neighborhood.

The impact is particularly helpful for people in low-income communities where mental health concerns tend to be prevalent and people have difficulty accessing traditional health care.

"The treatment of blighted physical environments, particularly in resource-limited urban settings, can be an important treatment for mental health problems alongside other patient-level treatments," the researchers wrote in their study.

Other Benefits Of Green Space

Earlier studies have also shown other benefits of exposure to green space. A 2015 study showed that older adults exposed to natural surroundings are more likely to sleep better. Another study found that children exposed to green spaces tend to have more enhanced cognitive skills.

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