Gardens and local green space leads to lower incidence of antidepressant use

New research paper reveals strong link between living near green space and decreases in antidepressant prescription refills, highlighting the importance of nature for health & wellbeing and urban planning.

Garden scene, filled with acers, topiary and perennial plants.
credit: Petra Hoyer Millar

The study, led by Cecilia U. D. Stenfors of the Stockholm University, in association with researchers from the Umeå University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, discovered that residential green space is associated with statistically significantly lower prevalence and incidence of antidepressant medication redemptions. The researchers found that those living within 500 meters of green space were less likely to refill existing antidepressant prescriptions, whilst those within 50 meters were less likely to need new prescriptions.

The research, which aimed to investigate the association between residential green space and redemption of antidepressant drugs, involved 108,716 adults (324,378 observations) residing in Sweden. The research population consisted of participants from the Swedish Work Environment Study (SWES) which is a representative survey of the Swedish workforce conducted every two years. Green space cover was evaluated at distances of 50m, 100m, 300m, and 500m from the participant homes. The research included controls for individual and neighbourhood socio-economic characteristics.

The findings of the research not only highlighted the importance of green space for health and wellbeing, but also the potential impact of green space on improved mental health of (urban) populations and reduced reliance on medication. Furthermore, as the results showed the association is most salient within the buffer zone – around the residence, the research underscores the importance of gardens and green space in the immediate residential-surrounding environment for mental health. Urban planning policies should therefore not only focus on the provision, but also protection of local green spaces and where new developments are concerned, the inclusion of gardens and communal green spaces for new homes.

According to the researchers: “The results highlight the need to integrate health-, environmental- and climate action-, and urban planning policies—all target areas in the UN Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals (United Nations, 2015) —and the importance of greenspace at this nexus of human and planetary health (IPCC, 2022, UNECE., 2021). Strengthened environmental protection legislation and consideration of the values of greenspace at different levels of decision-making is thus imperative, in order to counteract strong short-term economic drivers in urbanization and densification (UNECE, 2021).”

The researchers acknowledge that there are limitations to the current research. For example, antidepressant prescription redemption alone may not be an accurate measure of depressive symptoms as any people with depressive symptoms may not seek care or (repeat) medication.

Celia Stenfors is an associate professor, researcher, university lecturer and research leader of the Stenfors Lab, in the Biological Psychology division and organisational psychology division in the Department of Psychology, at Stockholm University. Her research is focussed on the nexus of human, environmental, and planetary sustainability and health – looking at how to create sustainable places for sustainable people.

For full details of the research, see the research paper: Stenfors, C. et. al. (2024). More green, less depressed: Residential greenspace is associated with lower antidepressant redemptions in a nationwide population-based study