For many years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made various moves to emphasize and promote mental health as one of the major issues of the developed world. Already in 2005, it stated that Europe’s biggest problem today is the effects of mental disorders of the European population. A quarter of the population suffers from mental issues at some point in their lives, including psychoses, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
“Of the 870 million people living in the European Region, at any one time about 100 million people are estimated to suffer from anxiety and depression, 4 million from schizophrenia, 4 million from bipolar affective disorder, and 4 million from panic disorders”. While the greatest cause of the burden of disease on the European Region is cardiovascular disease, the second is neuropsychiatric disease, closely followed by depression, which is mainly caused by mental disorders (WHO, 2005).
Mental health disorders lead to many negative effects: alcohol abuse, depression and, in most tragic cases, suicides. It is sad to discover that nine of the ten countries in the world with the biggest rate of suicides are located in Europe. On the other hand, globally, in high-income countries, suicides are the second leading cause of death in the age group 15-29, just after road traffic accidents (WHO, 2014). The focus on the issues of mental health in Europe and around the world means that researchers and policy makers are ever more involved in initiatives, utilizing wide range of so called soft tools that could alleviate the scale of the problem. In a recent call for action (WHO 2017), the WHO emphasised again this need for a change in urban health initiatives with a strong focus on the creation and promotion of green spaces.
Among the multiple benefits of more green spaces in urban settings, we find improvement in air and water quality, as well as lessening of noise pollution and other environmental risks associated with urban living. In addition, they support and facilitate health and well-being by enabling stress alleviation and relaxation, physical activity, improved social interaction and community cohesiveness. Health benefits include improved levels of mental health, physical fitness and cognitive and immune function, as well as lower mortality rates in general (WHO 2017).
Calling upon expert advice, the WHO put forward precise recommendations for all stakeholders regarding creation and maintenance of green urban spaces. Firstly, contact with green spaces should be provided equally to all urban community members. As a rule of thumb, one should be able to access a public green space within 300m from their place of residence. Additionally, the quality of such spaces is not coincidental, this is why NeuroLandscape is very much involved in the public authorities’ agenda by focusing on the quality and health-promoting potential of green urban areas. And finally, WHO stresses it is important to look at this new paradigm of treating urbanisation, health and the importance of natural, green and blue spaces as a long-term project. This last aspect is also what makes NeuroLandscape’s work so exciting, as it is clear that the future not only belongs to cities, but green and healthy cities at that. We are honoured to be part of this movement and look forward to contributing to this action in years to come.
More information can be found here:
WHO web article (2016).
WHO Urban green spaces: a brief for action (2017), web press release.
WHO Urban green spaces a brief for action (2017), full report (PDF).