Me, my school and my mental health

Guest blogger for YoungMinds Becky talks about how exam pressure affected her mental health, and the steps she took to make school life easier.

School: seen as a place for learning, maturing, making friends and growing. But for someone with depression and anxiety, school can be far from these things. For a lot of us (often more than you initially realise), school can be the most mentally challenging time of our lives. Years 10, 11 and year one of college felt almost impossible for me.

Through my school years, I had been put in top sets and given extra work. I was considered a ‘high achiever’ which sounds great… right? But this meant that there was so much pressure for me to do well in all my exams and keep improving, it really was bitter sweet. When I was approaching GCSE’s, the expectation that I would go to university began. Uni is not for everyone and much to my teacher’s dismay, it has never been for me! I was interested in going into work after college as I learn better in a hands-on environment – and that’s okay; everyone learns in their own unique way. Constant pushing from school to be a ‘star’ student was only making me unhappy, as the goals they were setting me felt completely unreasonable and unachievable to me.

Unfortunately, at the end of year 9 and as I went into year 10, my low mood began to escalate which led me to start seeing the school therapist. My school were eager to help which was positive. However, a big problem I found with school counselling was that I had to leave lessons to attend. This not only set me behind with work – causing me more stress in order to catch up – but it also would provoke questions. My peers would notice when I left mid-lesson and ask ‘Where are you going?’ This was difficult as I felt I couldn’t talk to many people about the way I was feeling; I felt like I was constantly having to hide this part of me from them.

As the year group were now knuckling down with preparing for GCSEs, it was becoming more and more difficult to stay focused, motivated and on-track. My mind was always elsewhere and exams were creeping up on me. Mock exam after mock exam and one revision guide to the next – it was full on! I felt like teachers didn’t understand how much the pressure of school can affect not only our mental health but also the quality of work we produce. Often, my fatigue and sadness would completely inhibit my ability to concentrate, only making me more anxious. It felt like a vicious circle!

My mum and I went into the school to discuss how best to help me.

I had a separate room to do my exams in. This meant the anxieties about walking into the exam hall with 200 students were reduced significantly, putting my mind at ease.

After finding the school counselling was not effective, I managed to see a CAMHS therapist outside of school and she helped me with strategies to stay calm. “Deep breaths Becky,” I would think to myself as I got nervous.

I learnt to tackle revision in manageable chunks and treat myself to rewards when I completed a section. Revision is tiring as it is, without battling mental health, so celebrate even the smallest of victories because you deserve the credit!

To anyone else who is struggling with schoolwork: remember exams are important, but your mental health comes first.

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Comic Relief 2019

Comic Relief started as a charity in 1985 with a goal to raise as much money as possible for lives in Africa and the UK after the success of Live Aid that same year. Comic Relief came up with the idea of raising money through comedy which goes with their current message of “Do Something Funny For Money”.

Comic Relief officially started on Christmas Day 1985 and has been running successfully for 34 years.

Everyone at Harmless would like to say a BIG thank you to Comic Relief. By giving money on Red Nose Day you are showing your support to projects across the world- projects like ours. Harmless are supported by Comic Relief to help young people who self harm; they help us to save lives.

Harmless have had a long and successful relationship with Comic Relief; starting in 2012, we continue to work closely with the wonderful organisation today. In 2018, they gave us £150k to provide self harm and suicide crisis support services to those aged 19 to 34.

We also had the pleasure of hosting Comic Relief CEO, Liz Warner, in March 2019. As part of the visit, two young people spoke about how Harmless and The Tomorrow Project had supported them and the positive impact our work, funded by Comic Relief, had on their lives.

Thank you and please continue to support #RND text ‘YES’ to 70205 to donate £5.

To donate online:

To celebrate 34 years of Comic relief we’ve put together a history of red noses for you to reflect back on. Which ones have you owned?

In the Media: Artists battling mental health issues have spoken out about the “volatile and competitive” nature of the music industry.

Musicians from Somerset and Bristol will share “painful experiences” at an event on 6 March to raise awareness.
Organisations will discuss why it is “hard to find help” to help tackle the issue at Bristol’s Trinity Centre.
The talk stems from a recent survey which found 80 per cent of musicians suffer stress, anxiety and depression.
Victoria Bamber, head of campaigns at Skiddle which commissioned the survey, said mental health in the music industry needed to be brought to the public’s attention.
A spokesman Help Musicians UK, which will be part of the panel discussion, said: “The precarious nature of a musician’s work, the connection between their art and identity and other myriad complex pressures can leave musicians vulnerable”.
In response to The Prodigy singer Keith Flint’s recent death, they added: “For generations, the music industry has lost some of its brightest talent and Keith Flint’s sad passing highlights the continued need for support for musicians and those working in the industry.”
Bristol-based producer and DJ Dutchie, 23, from Devon, said: “People making sexist comments make me feel inferior or stupid.
“Late nights and drinking, lots of travelling and time away from family and friends, the constant artistic struggle of ‘am I good enough?’.
“Also, a lot of art stems from painful experiences, and although the act of music making can often be a therapy for working through these it is by no means a straightforward process”.Ben Osborne, 31, is a musician and composer from Bristol, currently based in Berlin.
“As a solo artist and a composer for commission, my work can often be very lonely, which can trigger some negative stuff and leave me in a position where it’s hard to find help,” he said.
“I am someone who suffers badly from anxiety, including panic attacks, as well as depression.
“Financial insecurity, undue pressure, competition, a lot of drugs and booze, a lot of loneliness, a lot of prejudices in the industry against the young, the old, against some genders, against some races – all of these contribute.”
“Extreme working hours and also the pressures of having to maintain the public image you set for yourself can contribute to mental health issues as an artist”, said 39-year-old Dr Meaker from Somerset.
“The music industry is also a very volatile and competitive place where one minute you could be doing super well and the next minute find yourself out of favour and fashion.”
Zion Flex from Bristol said her experience of the music industry “has been largely negative”.
“Very few people cared that I struggled with depression,” she said.
“Most people ignored me and isolated me. My race only compounded this.
“When there is nowhere else to turn we can always write our songs. Unfortunately sometimes writing a song is not a cure.”
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Young people’s mental health: What’s school got to do with it?

There’s a growing crisis in young people’s mental health. 75% of mental illness begins before the age of 18 – and 3 children in an average classroom are affected by a diagnosable condition.
This new episode of MQ Open Mind explores the role the education system can play in solving this crisis – and asks, how responsible are schools and teachers?
We’re joined by Damani, a college student with experience of anxiety, Nick, who was a teacher for over 20 years and Lucy, a researcher focussing on mental illness during adolescence.
Nick and Damani share their own experiences of mental illness in a school setting and discuss if school is the right place to tackle mental health problems. They also delve into the pressures of today’s curriculum and question what the purpose of school should be – in this day and age, does being street-smart trump being book-smart?
Lucy sheds light on the workings of the teenage brain – and how its development can explain why young people are more susceptible to mental illness. She also talks about her time working on Myriad, a nationwide project investigating how schools prepare students to manage their mental health and improve resilience. Finally, she de-mystifies the headlines behind social media and its effects on young people’s mental health.
The episode ends with our visions for a ‘schooltopia’, and what must change in order to achieve these. It’s clear we have a long way to go – but what’s even clearer is that researchers, young people and teachers all have a vital role to play.
Listen, like and subscribe to our MQ Open Mind podcast on iTunes or Podbean, or listen to this episode below.

In the News: Moving the body, boosting the mind: running your way to better mental health

I once lived a life almost ruled by anxiety, intrusive thoughts and paralysing fear. I spent years looking for the thing that would release me, and when I finally found it, it wasn’t medication or therapy (although both helped). It was running. It gave me a feeling that there was a world out there beckoning me, promising hope; it gave me independence and the sense that I had reserves of strength that I wasn’t aware of.
There are many reasons that physical activity is said to help mental health – it boosts mood, relieves stress and improves sleep. I also find that cardio exercise can use up some of the adrenaline caused by anxiety. My panic attacks stopped, intrusive thoughts lessened and a looming sense of doom was pushed back.
Although the stigma that sticks to mental illness has faded in recent years, the services set up to provide assistance are still stretched and underfunded. With the caveat that exercise alone can’t cure mental health problems, or even make life easier for those living with more severe illness, it can be a revelation. A recent study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal supported the theory that physical activity is an effective prevention strategy for depression. (Although it adds that “physical activity may protect against depression, and/or depression may result in decreased physical activity”.)
The link between exercise and mental health is not new – in 1769, the Scottish physician William Buchan wrote that “of all the causes which conspire to render the life of man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise” – but it is becoming more widely understood, says Dr Brendon Stubbs, head of physiotherapy at the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust.
One theory looks at the positive impact of exercise on the hippocampus in the brain, he says: “This region is decreased in volume in lots of mental health and cognitive conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mild cognitive impairment and dementia.” Just 10 minutes of light exercise has been shown to have a short-term impact on the hippocampus, and a long-term impact after 12 weeks. People with certain mental health conditions, such as depression, have also been found to have elevated levels of inflammatory markers, adds Stubbs: “Therefore, one way that exercise helps protect against and manage mental illness may be reducing inflammation.” It goes to show, “there is no health without mental health”.
But despite the often-quoted statistic that one in four of us will experience mental illness, and despite knowing that exercise can help ease the symptoms, many of us are pretty inactive. NHS figures for 2018 showed that 66% of men and 58% of women aged 19 and over met the recommended aerobic guidelines of 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week.
This may reflect the fact that many people still see exercise as a chore. Although our perception of exercise is formed in childhood, 2017 statistics from Public Health England found that, by the final year of primary school, just 17% of children were doing the recommended amount of daily exercise.
In adulthood, exercise is often the first thing to be sacrificed, with the excuse of too little time or money; and there is quite often a narrative that we are “just not very good at it”. In the modern world, other interests are competing for our attention.
Dr Sarah Vohra, a consultant psychiatrist and author, says she sees a common trend in many of her patients. “I see plenty of young people who have been referred with mild depression or anxiety symptoms, and when you unpack what they are doing day-to-day, the answer is very little … Time in the great outdoors has been replaced with time behind a screen, and real-life relationships replaced with virtual ones.”
This increasing time spent online may contribute to a tendency to see the brain as an abstract entity, disconnected from the body. In his book, How to Think About Exercise, Damon Young writes that we often see “physical and mental exertion as somehow in conflict. Not because there is too little time or energy, but because existence is seemingly split in two.” He goes on: “Exercise is a chance to educate our bodies and minds at once.”
But the chartered psychologist Kimberley Wilson believes it is not just laypeople who have always thought about the two as separate things. “The mental health professions have largely functioned on the principle that the only thing that matters is what happens from the neck up. We have somewhat idealised the brain and denigrated the body as simply something to carry your brain around. We don’t think of and value our bodies and brains as unified organisms. In reality … you can’t have the health of one without the other.”
Vybar Cregan-Reid, author of Footnotes: How Running Makes Us Human, thinks that we still have more work to do to persuade people that exercise really is an effective way to improve our mental health.
“For a long time, there has been a good deal of ignorance about the voluminous catalogue of mental benefits that different kinds of exercise can provide. People are slowly becoming more aware of these benefits, as barely a week goes by without some new trial or study being published that connects certain kinds of physical activity with mental wellbeing, but there is still some way to go with persuading people that moving outdoors is something of a miracle cure for many modern ills.”
So how do we persuade people that physical activity can really help the mind, without sounding preachy, simplistic or smug?
One possible tactic would be for doctors to suggest exercise and offer discounted gym membership as an accompaniment to medication and therapy. The GP Andrew Schuman says that exercise is an increasingly important topic in his conversations with patients dealing with mental health issues.
“Getting people to go for a walk – going outside into daylight, among other people and in sight of trees and nature – is a great first step. This may be common sense, but it’s important to say it, and say it again. You can’t, or won’t, go on to exercise if you don’t, in some way, ‘feel better’ from that very first step.”
But when people are at their lowest ebb, it is easy to understand why a suggestion to simply move could sound ridiculous. Lauren (not her real name), who works in primary mental healthcare, has some reservations about how exercise is recommended to patients who are suffering badly. “If we think about someone in the grips of depression or anxiety, the very nature of how they’re feeling, their negative thoughts, and the behaviour cycles they get trapped in, [can] mean that going out to a gym on their own or engaging with a group of strangers is going to feel almost impossible.”
Instead, she suggests, outcomes seem to be much better in “groups of people who have started exercising with their friends, starting running clubs or going on cycling weekends, and I think that’s because naturally these overcome more barriers. Ideally, I think we need to be able to replicate these kinds of conditions in organised and funded schemes, which could then be prescribed.”
Parkrun may be part of answer. The free scheme, set up by Paul Sinton-Hewitt when he was at a low ebb, encourages people to run 5k every week at a local event – it’s free, it’s inclusive, and there’s no emphasis on speed or the right trainers. A 2018 Glasgow Caledonian University study of more than 8,000 people showed that 89% said that participating in parkrun has had a positive impact on their happiness and mental health.
Another running scheme aims to help the most vulnerable in society. The Running Charity was set up in 2012 to help young people who are homeless or disadvantaged, many of whom struggle with mental health issues. As its co-founder Alex Eagle says: “Many of our young people exist in really chaotic environments and often feel quite powerless – they can put so much effort into getting a job or improving their housing, but their effort doesn’t necessarily mean that a job or safe accommodation will follow. With running, and exercise in general, whatever you put in, you get back out. There is a justice and a freedom in that, which homeless people are too often socially denied.”
Like Schuman, Eagle sees tangible results in people who engage with his initiative, starting with subtle, but profound changes, such as punctuality and eye contact. “Without a doubt, the real magic happens when they first achieve something they thought was impossible – this can be a 5k, or this can be an ultramarathon.”
“When you achieve something that your internal narrative told you was physically and mentally impossible, it forces you to challenge your perception of self.”
I still don’t fully understand why lacing up my trainers and getting out there holds back my previously debilitating anxiety, but I don’t think I’m overdoing it when I say running gave me my life back. And nobody was more surprised than I was.
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In the News: FUNDING for mental health services should be funneled away from treatment and into early prevention, council chiefs said.

Blackburn with Darwen Council director of public health, Dominic Harrison, said ploughing money into treating people who present at A&E departments with severe mental health problems would not improve the situation in the long term.
And he called for change to the way mental health services are commissioned so people can access the help they need at an earlier stage.
Speaking at a Blackburn with Darwen Council people overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Mr Harrison said: “I think we are almost at the point with mental health where we can’t treat our way out of the problem.
“Putting more money into treatment will not help – it’s not a solution.”
“We need the money in neighbourhood and community services.
“It will need the commissioning side of the system to increase the spend and change the model so we invest in our communities.
“We have done a mental health needs assessment and CCG data shows that Blackburn with Darwen has the most people in contact with mental health services in the country as a proportion of the population.
“Mental health is probably much higher than you think in terms of the causes of A&E admissions.
“The challenge is identifying what we can do in communities to stop that.”
Director of strategic development for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Sue Moore, added: “We have started a big piece of work on this. We realise the question is how can we stop people getting unwell in the first place.
“This is not like getting a physical health condition. Early intervention can be profoundly life changing in helping people break out of the cycle they are in.
Executive member for children’s services and education, Cllr Maureen Bateson, said while the last thing they wanted was for youngsters to end up in hospital with mental health problems, the provision in cases where they do end up in hospital is inadequate.
She said: “The top tier support for young people is abysmal.
“Trying to get a mental health bed for someone who really needs it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. They are just not there.”
Cllr Jacqui Slater added mental health issues could affect people from any background and it was not just limited to people from deprived backgrounds.

In the News: Mental health services boost for expectant and new mothers

More than £50m is to be spent on improving access to mental health services for expectant and new mothers.
The Scottish government said it would provide access to treatment for an additional 11,000 patients.
It is estimated that perinatal mental illness affects up to one in five women.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement on a visit to the mother and baby unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.
She said: “Our priority is to drive up standards of perinatal mental healthcare for new mothers and their children right across Scotland.
“Mental illness during pregnancy and during the first year after birth is really common, affecting up to one in five women.
“This new funding will identify mental health problems quickly so they can be treated promptly. Women and their families should also expect services to treat them with dignity and respect.”
‘I felt like a rotten orange inside’
Hayley Matthews, from Edinburgh, suffered pre and post-natal depression with her two children.
She says she went on a “downward spiral” of anxiety and guilt – believing that she wasn’t strong enough be a good mother.
But she pulled through thanks to the support of her “amazing” counsellor and hopes the extra government funding can help many more women like her.
Hayley told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We had been trying for a second child for about four or five years and I was always quite open about wanting to extend the family. But when it happened, I went into instant shock.
“Everybody kept saying, you look amazing, but I felt like a rotten orange inside.”
Hayley opened up to her doctor and was put on the list for counselling.
She said: “This is where I’m hoping that this (government) funding will help. I have an amazing counsellor, who has saved me. Without her, I think I would be in a very different situation. She has given me the tools to help me be a strong mother.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “The impact is not just felt by women. The mental and physical health of fathers and other partners can also be affected following the birth of a new baby.
“We also know that between 5% and 10% of fathers may develop mental health problems in the perinatal period.”
Under the plans, new models of service delivery will be introduced, including specialist care for acute perinatal mental health problems and improved infant mental health services.
A new needs assessment report, funded by the Scottish government, has been published by the national Managed Clinical Network (MCN) for perinatal mental health.
It outlines recommendations to improve the provision of mental healthcare for expectant and new mothers and their families.
Dr Roch Cantwell, lead clinician for the Perinatal Mental Health National Managed clinical Network (PMHN), said: “This report results from the enthusiasm, dedication and drive of women and their families who experience perinatal mental ill health, and the professionals who care for them across Scotland.
“Perinatal mental illness can be devastating but we know that there are effective treatments which can manage and, in some circumstances, prevent its onset.
“The needs assessment and service recommendations report gives us a template to establish services which will ensure that women, their infants and families receive expert care wherever they live in Scotland and that children can have the best start in life.”

In the News: PFA says more football players are seeking help

A growing number of players are seeking help from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) for mental health problems, according to new figures.
New data shows that 438 current and former professionals accessed therapy in 2018, 278 more than two years ago.
The union’s head of welfare, Michael Bennett, suggests more current players are coming forward now.
“Once you would never show any weakness, but they now realise it’s not weak to talk about things,” he said.
The PFA’s new figures come less than a week after Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and President of the Football Association, criticised football clubs for their attitude towards players’ mental health.
“The issues have always been there,” added former England youth international Bennett, who has run the PFA’s player welfare department since 2011.
“Dealing with injuries, transition in and out of the game, going on loan and feeling isolated, foreign players being lonely and so on, and then you have problems related to money worries or addiction.
“But they have perhaps been a little bit under the radar and too many people have suffered in silence in the past.
“Now, I hope, people realise you can ask for help and help is available.”
Several former and current high-profile players have spoken of their battles with mental health issues, including Tottenham and England full-back Danny Rose, former England winger Aaron Lennon and the now-retired striker Stan Collymore.
Gambling the ‘new challenge’
Although he admits there is more awareness among football clubs regarding mental health, Bennett highlighted that other issues, such as gambling, cause new concerns.
“It used to be betting shops and card schools but now it’s virtual casinos and gambling on your phone,” he continued.
“It’s everywhere now and it can get out of hand quite quickly. Everyone thinks young players are on £5,000 a week, so it doesn’t matter, but it’s more like £500 a week in Leagues One and Two and they can get in trouble because they are not millionaires.
“You only have to tick a box to say you’re 18 and away you go. It doesn’t seem like real money and it’s a big issue. We are doing a lot of work on this with Sporting Chance and [problem-gambling experts] EPIC.”
In December, Britain’s biggest gambling companies confirmed plans to effectively ban television betting adverts during pre-watershed live sport.
The Remote Gambling Association (RGA), made up of Britain’s biggest betting companies including Bet365, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, voluntarily agreed to the ban.
Former Manchester City and Northern Ireland player Jeff Whitley, who is a member of the welfare team at the PFA, says gambling provides a “new challenge” for the sport.
Whitley, who suffered from his own drink and drug addiction during his career, said: “With gambling, you don’t have to go to the bookies; it’s a very secretive addiction. People just need their mobile phones.
“It’s different to alcohol or drugs, which you can see or smell when players come into the club.
“With gambling, people can put a mask on. It can be months before anyone would know they’re really struggling.”
Link to original blog:

In the News: Is young people’s mental health getting worse?

Poor mental health among children and young people has been described as an epidemic and an “escalating crisis”.
The number of children seeking help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs) in England, has more than doubled over the past two years.
But establishing how much of this represents an actual rise in young people experiencing problems, and how much is down to better awareness of symptoms and diagnosis, is difficult.
Staying with England for now, our best shot is to look at a representative sample of the whole population, not just those who have come in contact with mental health services.
An NHS survey of young people in England, selected from GP records, did just this.
It found a small but genuine rise in diagnosable emotional disorders like depression and anxiety, especially among girls.
This was based on full psychiatric assessments of roughly 10,000 young people – meaning it could pick up existing problems even if someone had never sought help.
Researchers found the proportion of under-16s experiencing any mental disorder had risen from 11.4% to 13.6% between 1999 and 2017.
That total includes things like anxiety and depression as well as behavioural disorders and hyperactivity.
“It was smaller than we thought,” says Prof Tamsin Ford, a child psychiatrist and researcher who developed the survey.
“It’s not huge, not the epidemic you see reported.”
Older teenagers were included in the survey for the first time in 2017 and it suggested that young women aged 17-19 were two-thirds more likely than younger girls, and twice as likely as their male peers, to experience poor mental health.
There is a big gap between the rise in the number of children found to have diagnosable mental disorders over almost two decades, and the rise in referrals to Camhs in just two years. And that suggests a good proportion of the rise is down to more people seeking help, not entirely to more people being unwell.
That doesn’t mean all those people will get help, though.
There has also been a rise in the number of young people saying themselves that they have a mental disorder, according to national surveys conducted each year around Britain. Self-reported conditions among young people increased six-fold in England, doubled in Scotland and went up by more than half in Wales between 1999 and 2014.
Again, that’s despite the fact that researchers couldn’t find an equivalent rise in the numbers showing signs of psychological distress when given a formal psychiatric assessment.
This is likely to be because children – and their parents – are better able to recognise difficulties, leading to a “narrowing of the gap between problems that exist and problems that are reported,” according to Prof Ford’s research.
It’s also possible some children are identifying distressing emotions as disorders even though they don’t have a diagnosable condition.
And methods of diagnosis of mental illness are not perfect either since they are trying to draw a clear line [between having a condition and not] in something that is anything but clear: where ordinary feelings of anxiety become an anxiety disorder, or where feeling low due to circumstances crosses over into clinical depression.
Hospital admissions
It’s not just that young people are more likely to say they have difficulties with their mental health, though. In England, there has also been an almost doubling of hospital admissions for self-harm among girls since 1997 (although there’s been no corresponding rise among boys).
An NHS Digital spokesman said the disparity between the sexes meant the rise was unlikely to be just down to improvements in recording.
But even when it comes to symptoms this severe, hospital records aren’t necessarily a perfect measure of more people harming themselves.
A better understanding by professionals has led to more cases being recorded as self-harm, Prof Ford says, whereas previously people may have been treated for their wounds without the self-inflicted nature being picked up.
This may also be down to a reduction in stigma – most self-harm is concealed and so more people presenting at hospital doesn’t necessarily mean more self-harm is actually taking place.
A “surprising number of people” harm themselves quite severely yet never go to hospital, she explains.
Although the evidence for whether children and young people’s mental health is getting worse is contradictory, according to Lorraine Khan at the Centre for Mental Health, there are “some tentative signs of a decline in young women’s wellbeing”, backed up by the latest NHS figures, which need investigation.
Original blog:

In the News: Green space during childhood may improve adult mental health

According to Aarhus University, Denmark, it’s time to emphasise the need for designing green and healthy cities, not just for a sustainable future but for adult mental health.
Did you know that children who grow up with greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life? Adult mental health is widespread – and such research calls for greener and healthier cities for the future.
Green space + children = positive adult mental health
According to WHO estimates, more than 450 million of the global human population suffer from a mental disorder. And this is a number that is expected to increase.
Now, based on satellite data from 1985 to 2013, researchers from Aarhus University have mapped the presence of green space around the childhood homes of almost one million Danes and compared this data with the risk of developing one of 16 different mental disorders later in life.
The study, published in the American Journal PNAS, shows that children surrounded by the high amounts of green space in childhood have up to a 55% lower risk of developing a mental disorder – even after adjusting for other known risk factors such as socio-economic status, urbanisation, and the family history of mental disorders.
What actually leads to adult mental health?
Kristine Engemann from department of bioscience and the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University explains: “Our data is unique. We have had the opportunity to use a massive amount of data from Danish registers of, among other things, residential location and disease diagnoses and compare it with satellite images revealing the extent of green space surrounding each individual when growing up.”
It is already known that noise, air pollution, infections and poor socio-economic conditions increase the risk of developing a mental disorder.
Conversely, other studies have shown that more green space in the local area creates greater social cohesion and increases people’s physical activity level and that it can improve children’s cognitive development, green space can also reduce heart disease. These are all factors that may have an impact on people’s mental health.
“With our dataset, we show that the risk of developing a mental disorder decreases incrementally the longer you have been surrounded by green space from birth and up to the age of 10. Green space throughout childhood is therefore extremely important,” Kristine Engemann explains.
The relationship between greenspace and mental disorders
Kristine Engemann adds: “There is increasing evidence that the natural environment plays a larger role for mental health than previously thought. Our study is important in giving us a better understanding of its importance across the broader population.”
This knowledge has important implications for sustainable urban planning. Not least because a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population lives in cities.
Co-author Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, concludes: “The coupling between mental health and access to green space in your local area is something that should be considered even more in urban planning to ensure greener and healthier cities and improve mental health of urban residents in the future.”
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