Coastal Living Tied to Better Mental Health Among England’s Poor

Living near the ocean is linked to better mental health among people living in England’s poorest urban communities, according to a new study published in the journal Health and Place.

The analysis, which involved survey data of nearly 26,000 respondents, is one of the most detailed investigations ever conducted into the mental health effects of living near the coast. The findings add to the growing evidence that access to blue spaces — particularly coastal environments — might improve health and wellbeing.

Approximately one in six adults in England struggles with a mental health disorder such as anxiety and/or depression, and these conditions are even more prevalent among people from poorer backgrounds. The findings suggest that access to the coast could help reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities close to the ocean.

“Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders,” said study leader Dr. Jo Garrett from the University of Exeter. “When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income.”

For the study, researchers from the University of Exeter looked at data from the Health Survey for England and compared people’s health to their proximity to the coast — from those living less than 1 kilometer (slightly more than half a mile) away to those more than 50 km (31 miles) away.

The study represents the first time the benefits of coastal living have been demonstrated at such a detailed level according to income and comes as Natural England prepares to open access to all of England’s Coast Path by 2020. With everywhere in England within 70 miles of the sea, more people could harness the mental health benefits of living near the coast thanks to improved access.

“This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces,” said Dr. Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter.

“We need to help policy makers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments.”

This work is part of the BlueHealth project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.

Source: University of Exeter