Urban green space and mental health among people living alone

Available on 16 June 2023

In this paper, BlueHealth researchers demonstrate that visits to natural environments might promote good mental health for people living alone because those visits help to strengthen personal relationships and community connectedness.

Rates of living alone, especially in more urbanised areas, are increasing across many industrialised countries, with associated increases in feelings of loneliness and poorer mental health. Recent studies have suggested that access to nature (e.g. parks and green spaces) can reduce the stressors associated with loneliness, partly through providing opportunities to nurture personal relationships (relational restoration) and engage in normative community activities (collective restoration). Such associations might vary across different household compositions and socio-demographic or geographical characteristics, but these have not been thoroughly tested. Using data collected across 18 countries/territories in 2017–2018, we grouped urban respondents into those living alone (n = 2062) and those living with a partner (n = 6218). Using multigroup path modelling, we tested whether the associations between neighbourhood greenspace coverage (1-km-buffer from home) and mental health are sequentially mediated by: (a) visits to greenspace; and subsequently (b) relationship and/or community satisfaction, as operationalisations of relational and collective restoration, respectively. We also tested whether any indirect associations varied among subgroups of respondents living alone.

Analyses showed that visiting green space was associated with greater mental well-being and marginally lower odds of using anxiety/depression medication use indirectly, mediated via both relationship and community satisfaction. These indirect associations were equally strong among respondents living alone and those living with a partner. Neighbourhood green space was, additionally, associated with more visits among respondents living with a partner, whereas among those living alone, this was sensitive to the green space metric. Within subgroups of people living alone, few overall differences were found. Some indirect pathways were, nevertheless, stronger in males, under 60-year-olds, those with no financial strain, and residents in warmer climates. In conclusion, supporting those living alone, as well as those living with a partner, to more frequently access their local greenspaces could help improve mental health via promoting relational and collective restoration.

Full citation

Pasanen, T.P., White, M.P., Elliott, L.R., van den Bosch, M., Bratman, G.N., Ojala, A., Korpela, K., Fleming, L.E., 2023. Urban green space and mental health among people living alone: The mediating roles of relational and collective restoration in an 18-country sample. Environmental Research 232, 116324. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2023.116324