Proximity to Public Transport Linked to Better Mental Health

Location is usually the biggest factor while deciding one’s accommodation; the better the facilities in the area, the higher the prices. Access to public transport plays an important role in the selection of house. However, there are many who hate a noisy neighborhood, which is common if the house is located in an area with good public transport facility.

However, apart from the real estate point of view, there is another reason to opt for a house located in proximity to a train station or a bus stop. According to a recent study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, living near public transport facility boosts mental health.

Titled “The Effects of the Urban Built Environment on Mental Health: A Cohort Study in a Large Northern Italian City,” this 2015 study claimed that “built environment” has a stronger effect on mental health for people who spend more time in the neighborhood. They found that better access to public transport and a dense urban structure could lead to a reduction in depression. This is especially true for women and elderly who have an increased opportunity to move around and mingle with others.

“The urban built environment (BE),” said the researchers, “is one of the potential determinants of health and health inequalities to be considered in the Health in All Policies approach. The health impact of some BE characteristics, such as housing, traffic, environmental pollution and safety, have been widely assessed but little is known about the impact of main structural characteristics of the urban context that are central to urban and local plans, such as land use, building density and distribution of services and facilities.”

The researchers collated and studied the data from the Turin Longitudinal Study in northern Italy, which was based on the city’s historical population registry from 1971 to present. They considered five key parameters as urban characteristics to arrive at their conclusion, which was developmental density, land use mixture (residential, commercial), public and green space, cultural and sports facilities (public libraries, swimming pools), as well as transit access.

The researchers further studied basic demographic information, like education, job status, citizenship and residential stability as the basis of their study. They followed the adult citizens to measure their mental conditions by looking at the antidepressant medications consumed during a certain period of time.

They observed that depressive symptoms in populations that lived closer to environments with improved facilities like transit access significantly improved. They had reduced intake of antidepressant medications, which suggests an improvement in their mental condition. This finding was especially prominent among women and older residents aged between 50 and 64.

Two distinct trends came to the fore from this study — one, it showed that people’s mental state improved significantly when they lived in areas that are more easily accessible by bus or train, and in places with taller average building heights than those living in more remote or sparse areas;. and two, antidepressant prescriptions increased among those with less education and inactivity.

“In our data, a low level of education and inactivity shows the strongest effect on the incidence of first antidepressant prescriptions, particularly among unemployed men,” the researchers said.

In a built environment, home and offices were the strongest determinants in term of health benefits as people spend an extended period of time in them. However, the effects of outdoor urban environment are difficult to ascertain and is recognized to be of minor intensity.

The study makes some very pertinent suggestions, like addressing health inequalities, building a good public transport network throughout the city, and paying attention to elderly and women population. These measures would definitely contribute to the mental health in the city in relation to urban policies and foster equity in the distribution of social determinants.

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