A new study published in the National Library of Medicine looked at gender and sex differences in urban greenness’ mental health benefits.
“Our study examines articles that investigate the relationship between mental health outcomes and urban greenness with a deeper look into gender and sex differences associated with them as well as how gender and sex are used in environmental health literature,” study author Marta-Beatriz Fernandez Nunez told us. “When performing the review, we were open to all results to avoid bias when reading the included articles.”
Researchers did not have a hypothesis on how the results would turn out, instead, they structured their study based on the two main research questions: How are gender and sex used in the literature on the association between urban green and mental health? To what extent and how does urban greenness unequally distribute mental health benefits in women and females compared to men and males?
“Mental health disorders keep rising, and urban greenness has been proven beneficial in restoring people’s psychological wellbeing,” Fernandez Nunez “We considered it important to dive into the scarce previous research regarding the possible different effects urban greenness may have according to sex and gender. We wanted to discern whether urban greenness could be more protective towards women or men or whether the relationship was equal.”
Researchers conducted a systematic review of previous academic literature, with different researchers involved in selecting the articles not to exclude relevant articles.
The study highlighted various articles that do not adequately use the terminology related to sex and gender associated with mental health outcomes in an urban greenness environment. Additionally, results point to women benefiting more from urban greenness; but are less likely to use urban greenness than men. This could be because of safety concerns and due to gender norms, and societal roles. It could also be explained by the fact that the quality and characteristics of these spaces are not designed and planned for women the same way they are for men. Therefore, urban greenness may unequally distribute mental health benefits to women compared to men.
“We were mainly surprised by the lack of consistency regarding sex and gender terminology,” Fernandez Nunez told us. “Multiple studies did not seem to understand the difference between using female or woman or male or man. Most would use woman and man, to, seemingly, be more politically correct; however, that would sometimes be wrong as the study would have studied sex and not gender. Thus, there was a bit of a shock concerning the lack of knowledge about gender studies.”
From a policy and planning perspective, Fernandez Nunez said greater gendered equity and justice in greenness should be ensured and that we should call on park planners and designers to carefully plan new greenness with the voice of female and women residents, especially children.
“The new planning programs need to include designs of recreational, natural, and safety features that particularly respond to their individual and sociocultural needs and preferences,” Fernandez Nunez told us. “For instance, addressing environmental and social cues in parks through maintenance and design could help mitigate some of the most pressing safety issues. In addition, designers and planners could add pathways easy for strollers and playgrounds for kids so that children and parents can simultaneously benefit from urban greenness—otherwise, cities risk excluding residents.”
As for the next steps in research, future studies need to analyze in-depth societal gender differences associated with mental health and urban greenness and use the proper terminology to correctly assign characteristics and uses of greenness with mental health outcomes and their pathways.
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com