SEOUL, April 17 (Korea Bizwire) – Depression and suicide, which cost South Korean society a fortune both socially and economically, have been linked to a lack of greenery, according to a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW).
The annual community health survey conducted by a team led by professor Min Gyeong-bok at the Seoul National University College of Medicine revealed that a lack of green space is affecting the mental health of South Koreans, after questioning 230,000 respondents over 20 years of age.
The research team divided 200 administrative districts in the country into four groups based on the size of green spaces such as mountains and parks per capita.
It turned out those living areas lacking in access to nature were 1.27 times more likely to experience symptoms of depression, and face a 20 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with depression when seeking professional medical help.
The chances of having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide also grew in a similar setting, with those in a nature-deficient area facing a 27 percent higher risk of attempted suicide.
With each person having an approximate average of 20 square meters of green space to themselves in South Korea, a lack of exercise coupled with a lack of exposure to nature can have a devastating impact on those who are vulnerable to mental illness.
In other words, doing exercise and participating in physical activities can compensate for a lack of nature in one’s living environment.
The research team said their latest study disproves the commonly shared idea that depression stems from an individual’s psychological condition, and shows societal and financial status, as well as the environment, can have a great impact on one’s mental health.
As of late, a number of studies have been released highlighting the positive effect of green spaces and their contribution to more social interaction and physical activities, which, as a result, brings down stress levels among a community’s inhabitants.
For this reason, experts recommend regular visits to neighborhood green spaces or travel to nearby parks for a walk as a method to prevent depression.
As suicide remains the number one cause of death for both the elderly and juveniles in South Korea, the link drawn between a lack of nature and suicide will continue to draw attention.
However, Min says though a lack of green spaces can lead to a lack of exercise, which can increase the risk of depression, more research needs to be done on the direct link between limited access to nature and depression.
Currently, around 600,000 people are reported to be suffering from depression in South Korea, accounting for 1.5 percent of the country’s population.
The findings from the study were published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Public Health.