Green spaces link to poorer mental health in women

MOVING to the countryside may be the dream of many stressed city-dwelling Scots – but new research shows that for women it may not be as beneficial as once believed.

Fiona Nicoll was surprised at how isolated she felt living in Stobo in the Borders. Picture: Toby Williams

Health experts from Glasgow University have discovered that social isolation and safety fears give women in the greenest parts of the country poorer levels of mental health than their male counterparts.

The researchers, from the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health at Glasgow University, analysed data from 6,301 male and 7,316 female participants over an eight-year period to examine the relationship between green space and mental health.

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Participants were asked to rate their mental health using a scoring system, which included factors such as sleep problems, worries, how valuable participants felt and if they were under any strain.

Researchers found men aged 30 to late 70s who lived in 
the greenest spaces reported better mental health compared with other men.

Male participants living in areas which were less than 33 per cent green experienced the lowest levels of mental health.

In contrast, the link for women emerged a bit later, from age 40, with women 
living in areas with the highest levels of green space – more than 66 per cent green – 
having the poorest levels of mental health.

Women who lived in areas with the lowest levels of green space had better mental health on average than those in areas with the greatest levels of green space.

Researchers say that the “surprising” findings could be the result of women’s “feelings of social isolation” and that women may feel less safe in greener environments than men, and therefore be less 
likely to take advantage of greener spaces.

Rich Mitchell, co-author of the paper and professor of health and environment at 
the University of Glasgow, said: “It is interesting that a man and woman could even 
be living in the same house 
but respond so differently 
to the same neighbourhood environment.

“Women may be busier 
balancing the demands of work and home, and may not be able to take advantage of green spaces.

“It is possible women feel less safe in these environments, so are simply less likely to use green spaces.

“It is also possible that 
women may feel more isolated in neighbourhoods which are dominated by green spaces.”