Michail Georgiou is a PhD researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University

AT Glasgow Caledonian University we have found evidence that living near a blue space can significantly reduce mental health conditions, with those living in the most vulnerable areas of our cities harvesting the largest benefit.

As a member of the University’s Green and Blue Space Wellbeing Research Group, I led a 10-year study centered around the 250-year-old Forth and Clyde Canal, which runs through some of the most deprived areas in North Glasgow. This was a retrospective study, analysing primary care health data routinely collected by the NHS for 10 years until 2018 involving 132,788 people. The canal has been under regeneration since the 2000s and is now a "smart canal" that uses technology to reduce flood risks and the impact of climate change. The canal regeneration has also produced a number of health benefits in the area.

Our study team found that living near the canal reduced the risk of mental health conditions derived from socio-economic deprivation by 6% for those in the highest risk category and 4% for those in the "medium deprivation" group. Although these effects may appear small at first sight, they can be game-changing from a population perspective.

People living in the most socio-economically deprived areas of our cities carry a disproportionate burden of the adversities caused by urbanisation, as climate change risk, socio-economic deprivation and mental health vulnerabilities tend to cluster. For instance, we also estimated the effect socio-economic deprivation has on the likelihood of developing a mental health condition. Our findings showed that those living in the most deprived areas of our study experienced up to 154% higher risk of mental health disorders than those in the least deprived areas. This is a tremendous increase which reflects the persistence of health inequalities in our societies and essentially a call for action.

Globally, as estimated by the World Health Organization, approximately one billion people lived with a mental health condition in 2020 and the United Nations have classified mental health as a “pressing development issue” in their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is currently more ongoing research towards the use blue spaces as therapeutic landscapes of mental health and the idea is rapidly emerging.

Earlier this year, using the same NHS datasets, we published a similar study which showed that living within 700m of a canal reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, a stroke or hypertension for people in deprived areas by up to 15%. It also lowers the risk of diabetes by 12% and obesity by 10%.

These important findings highlight the role blue spaces could play in making our cities healthier and more sustainable. Our studies call for regeneration efforts to focus on the most deprived areas of our cities and provide evidence that blue spaces could be a powerful tool to reduce mental and general health inequalities in our society.

Our recent study "A population-based retrospective study of the modifying effect of urban blue space on the impact of socioeconomic deprivation on mental health" has been published in the Nature journal.