People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland.
The study, which surveyed mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes and ethnicities, also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed. ‘We demonstrated that of five neighbourhood nature characteristics tested, vegetation cover and afternoon bird abundances were positively associated with a lower prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress,’ the researchers said.
After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon. The academics studied afternoon bird numbers – which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning – because they are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighbourhood on a daily basis. In the study, common types of birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows were seen.
Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low (eg Dallimer et al, 2012), suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.
University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said: ‘This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative healthcare, making cities healthier, happier places to live.’
The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors. ‘Although the causes and drivers of poor mental health are diverse, this study suggests that even low levels of key components of neighbourhood nature can be associated with better mental health, providing promise for preventative health approaches,’ the researchers said.
The research was published in the journal Bioscience.