In a 2019 CNN report, it was found that 46 million Americans experience some form of mental illness annually (i.e. Depression, Anxiety, Substance Abuse). However, in that given year, only about 41% of those reported cases of mental illness get treatment.  This trend sets Americans up for a scary trajectory of what our mental well being will look like in the future. However, there is a simple change that can change this outlook for us: practicing sustainability (Living Green).

 

Our mental health is just as susceptible to an unhealthy environment as our physical health is.

Here are just a few ways that our unhealthy environment can affect our mental health:

  • There is growing evidence that supports a link between some air pollutants and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, dementia, and even suicide. A recent London-based study in Psychiatry Research, found that the risk is three to four times more likely among children in urban areas, to develop depression by age 18 if they were exposed to dirty air at age 12 (as cited in Weiss, 2020). A separate study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found a correlation between high traffic-related air pollution and children’s anxiety (as cited in Weiss, 2020).
  • Lead, a toxic heavy metal, has a long history of being known to negatively affect our nervous system. Low levels of lead concentration in the blood has been correlated with behavioral difficulties and learning problems in children.
  • Many once rural areas have undergone urbanization, the elimination of green spaces in order to create housing and job opportunities. However, this has been shown to negatively impact the planet. A report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) notes that this in turn can increase isolation from nature, resulting in people not taking advantage of the mental health benefits that are associated with being surrounded by nature. Spending time in nature has been clinically proven to provide natural physical and mental health benefits.

 

Improving Mental Wellness

So if our environment around us can impact us so negatively, is there a way to combat these effects by going green at home? Could that really help to remedy the impact of modern life on our mental wellbeing?

Yes, thankfully, the answer is YES! A report conducted by Natural England found that individuals who participated in nature-based activities faced lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (as cited in Hassan, 2020).

 

So what truly happens if you incorporate a more sustainable lifestyle at home?
  • Sustainable living helps to improve one’s mindfulness. As you take in and process your surrounding environment, you become more aware of the influences on your mood and emotions. In turn, this allows for you to focus more freely and ruminate less.
  • A sustainable lifestyle, going green and protecting the planet, can actually boost your confidence and self-worth as it provides you with a greater self purpose. It may help provide you with a sense of accomplishment, allow you to become part of a larger sense of community, which in turn provides additional social support. 
  • One of the most understood benefits is that of one’s physical health. Reducing your carbon footprint by walking, cycling, etc. can relieve stress, improve your mood, and improve sleep quality. Moving towards growing your own food also increases physical activities as you garden, increasing the production of serotonin which boosts your mood acting like an antidepressant.

 

With all this being said, research shows that sustainable living not only will help our environment and our physical well being, but it will also improve our mental health.  And the best part is that it does not require a whole lot of effort on our part to make the changes necessary to experience these benefits.  All we must do is make an effort to engage in simple activities that involve interacting with nature. By making this tiny but mighty change we can dramatically improve mental health issues for ourselves and our communities.

 

References

Chillag, A. (2019). Every year, 46 million Americans deal with mental illness. Only 41% get help. Here’s how you can. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/08/health/iyw-how-to-get-mental-health-help/index.html

Weiss, E. (2020). Can Going Green Improve Your Mental Health?.Retrieved from https://earth911.com/living-well-being/can-going-green-improve-your-mental-health/

Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association. (2020). Mental Health Benefits of Going Green: Why It Feels So Good. Retrieved from https://anzmh.asn.au/blog/mental-health/mental-health-benefits-going-green

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