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New FPH mental health report calls for more use of walks in parks to treat mental illness

Safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs for treating mild to moderate forms of depression and anxiety according to a new report published today FPH.

Whilst anti-depressants are generally most effective for the severely depressed, the report suggests that people with milder forms of depression generally improve with access to green space and open air.

The report, Great Outdoors: How Our Natural Health Service Uses Green Space To Improve Wellbeing, also shows that living and working close to green spaces and being able to enjoy them safely can reduce crime and increase productivity in the workplace. Furthermore, easy access to parks and natural areas is shown to decrease health inequalities. The FPH report therefore calls for GPs to use more alternatives to medication for mental illness, including advice to spend time and exercise in green spaces.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, FPH President, says: "This report highlights the strong link between safe, green spaces and wellbeing. Everyone should have easy and safe access to parks and other natural areas to help tackle so many mental-health-related issues, from depression and anxiety to high blood pressure and anti-social behaviour. We in the medical community should consider using the natural environment as a great resource for improving people's mental wellbeing."

The report pulls together recent evidence that shows the impact of green space on health. For instance, contact with green spaces can reduce symptoms for young people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In England, ADHD drug prescriptions for under-16s went up by 33% between 2005 and 2007 - despite the evidence that even a walk in the park can be as beneficial as medication. A recent large-scale study of 336,348 patient records in the UK showed significantly less health inequality between rich and poor groups in areas with higher levels of green space than between similar groups in areas with less green space.

Poor mental health poses a huge burden to society, with almost one in six in the UK suffering from mental ill-health at some point in their lifetime. The thousands of people unable to work cost the economy an estimated £26.1 billion a year in lost earnings. In Europe, mental illness accounts for almost 20% of the burden of disease.

The report recommendations include:

  • GPs should consider providing advice about physical activity in green spaces as an alternative or adjunct to medication for patients with milder forms of depression or anxiety.
  • Local authorities should provide more accessible green spaces and open-air leisure facilities in which children, families, adults and older people can safely play and exercise.
  • Local strategic partnerships, especially those in urban areas, should maximise the use of available green space for health-promoting activities.
  • Exercise prescription schemes in general practice could usefully be extended to cover supervised physical activity in green spaces.
  • Programmes which encourage physical activity in green spaces and natural environments should continue to be fully supported.
  • Major research-funding bodies should specifically commission research on the potential role of green space in preventing mental and physical ill-health and reducing health inequalities.

Contact details:

FPH Press Office, Suvi Kingsley 020 7935 3115 / 07909 780022 /

Notes for Editors

  1. Great Outdoors: How Our Natural Health Service Uses Green Space To Improve Wellbeing is a Faculty of Public Health report in association with Natural England.
  2. Faculty of Public Health (FPH) is the standard-setting body for public health in the UK with more than 3,000 specialist public health members.
    • FPH quality-assures the public health specialist training in the UK through a five-year multidisciplinary training programme and continuing professional development.
    • FPH is a registered charity and advocates for better public health in the UK and around the world by stimulating debate on promoting, protecting and improving the public's health.

ENDS

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Written: 01/07/2010 , last modified: 01/07/2010