Mental Health and Urban Life: One Simple Fix

Time for your stress to take a nose-dive

Breathe, they tell us. Breathe what? All right, we’re living in the city, working and studying like fiends, inhaling stress along with way too much smoke, smog, and whatever else goes into the soup we live in on any given day. And our collective mental health isn’t doing too grand lately either, is it. It’s the stress! The stress I tell you! And the trees, lack of. Whew. Deep breaths.

If you’re trying to get your zen on, but can’t quite manage the meditative breathing part because, well, the air isn’t exactly a freshly oxygenated delight, your city definitely needs to get in on the tree-planting trend.

It’s got to be a bigger initiative than just what you’ve got in your pocket size garden, but it couldn’t hurt to put one there as well. Got room for a flower pot? You’ve got room for a tree. It’s fine to start small because we’re thinking big.

Now for the more wide-ranging urban tree-planting campaigns. Yes, your city needs to do more, but actually there are quite a few greening projects already underway. And they are much needed.

Your mental health in full bloom

Did you know that according to a new study done by Dr Melissa Marselle, a psychology lecturer at a university in Leicester, UK, urban flora can be directly correlated with the mental wellbeing of city residents? Dr Marselle and her team plotted medical prescriptions against distribution maps of urban green spaces, for nearly 10,000 citizens of Leipzig, Germany.

Result: living near trees absolutely did correspond with a lower rate of antidepressant prescription, and, more specifically, living within 100 metres of any species of tree was associated with a significantly smaller amount of antidepressant usage.

Result: the association between living near trees and lower use of antidepressants was notably stronger in poorer areas.

Dr Marselle said on the university website: “Our finding suggests that street trees, a small-scale, publicly accessible form of urban greenspace, can help close the gap in health inequalities,” and that, ““street tree planting in residential areas of cities may be a nature-based solution to reduce the risk of depression.”

In conclusion, she stated that this study had “important implications for urban planning and nature-based health interventions in cities”.

Trees could save us all

Now that you’ve got your head on straight and your stress levels down, do you have any idea what planting trees can do to mitigate the global environmental crisis?

One of the best, biggest, and cheapest ways to take CO2 out of the atmosphere as a way to help solve the climate crisis is planting billions of trees. Trees absorb and store the emissions that are heating up the globe.

New research shows that if tree coverage is increased worldwide, it could remove a huge percentage of human-generated emissions in the atmosphere, approximately two-thirds actually! Scientists are loving this “mind-blowing” figure. And all this is aside from city-based tree planting.

Dip in my hand, then I palm trees

An unprecedented 50%+ of the global population now lives in urban areas. We are expected to hit 66% by 2050. On a less cool note, the trending move from rural areas to city life has mostly been triggered by poverty and socio-economic difficulties, especially in Asia and Africa.

Cities often undergo rapid expansion without any planning strategy covering land use or green area preservation, and the ensuing human pressure has had a devastating effect on landscapes, forests and woods, and green spaces in the urban environment.

Climate change is intensifying, and it is also intensifying the environmental impact of urbanization and its huge concrete heat sinks. Pollution is up, food and resources are less available, and poverty and extreme climate events are on the rise.

How can we fix this?

We need to plant trees everywhere, especially in cities. Urban trees can help ease some of the impact of urban sprawl and overly built-up areas, as well as some of the accompanying social consequences. We can make cities more resilient to climate change, and we need to do it now.

Chin up and get a sprinkling can

What can trees do for us when we plant them in urban areas?

  • Trees are a food source: fruit, nuts, and leaves can be used for human and animal consumption

  • Trees that must be cleared, as well as fallen branches, can be used for fires for cooking and heating

  • Trees increase biodiversity: they offer animals, plants, and pollinators food, safe haven, and a place to live

  • Trees can mitigate climate change: a mature tree can absorb as much as 150 kg of CO2 each year

  • Air quality: as we said earlier, you know you’ll breathe easier with trees on the streets. They improve air quality.

  • Reduce urban heat island effect: trees can help cool the air in cities by up to 8 degrees Celsius. This is especially important as climate change makes some places in the world much, much hotter.

  • Absorbing and filtering pollutants and fine particulate matter: trees suck gases including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, and sulphur oxide, and dirt, dust, and smoke out of the air, trapping them on leaves and bark.

  • Living near and having access to urban green spaces has been shown by multiple studies to improve mental and physical health. High blood pressure goes down, stress decreases, and urban well-being goes up.

  • Trees play a key role in regulating water flow, preventing floods, and reducing the impact of natural disasters. For example, a mature evergreen tree can intercept 15,000+ litres of water per year.

  • Trees conserve energy by reducing carbon emissions. Strategic placement of trees surrounding a building can both help cool it off in summer and keep it warm in winter. Air conditioning and cooling needs go down by 30%+-, and winter heating bills can drop by 20-50%.

  • Trees increase property values by up to 20%, and that’s just the trees in the public urban landscape, not including the trees on any private property. Trees attract tourism and improve business.

And now you really can take a deep breath. There is nothing as lovely as a tree. So let’s get planting!

At Vonder, we understand that when we all pull together, we can build community that benefits us all. Co-living and sustainability are key to moving forward in our ever-changing world.

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