Nature really can be healing. A new study shows that removing trash and adding trees to empty lots helped people feel happier and reduced symptoms of depression.
In what is perhaps the first scientific study of the effects of public spaces on mental health, a non-profit group in Philadelphia cleaned up trash-filled vacant lots and “greened up” others, primarily in low-income areas, and found that residents reported feeling happier.
The study, published Friday in the new open-access Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, looked at 541 vacant lots around Philadelphia. In a third, trees and grass were planted, and trash was removed from another third — but the remainder weren’t touched at all.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania spoke to 342 local residents several times to track their emotional state over the three-year period of the cleanup study, from 2011 to 2014.
They found that residents of areas that had either the greening or trash removal projects reported a decrease in feelings of depression by about 40 percent. In neighborhoods below the poverty line, the drop was 70 percent. Researchers also found reductions in feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and overall poor mental health…