It is children’s mental health week this week. This is a time to encourage everyone to think about how we can best take care of ourselves inside and out. Sadly, many children suffer with mental health problems – around one in ten children have problems with depression, anxiety or behavioural difficulties.  Within Born in Bradford, a lot of our research focuses on understanding what factors might influence mental wellbeing. This is because we know how important mental health is for allowing families to live healthy and happy lives. We have found children’s mental health to be influenced by a range of factors. For example, we have found that if mums were experiencing common mental health problems (for example, depression or anxiety) during pregnancy, or the first couple of years after birth, then their children had poorer mental health at age three.
There are many ways to improve mental health. Our lifestyles have a big influence on mental health. Most people know that being physically active, sleeping well, and eating healthily are all important factors. However, people might not know how important nature is for our health and wellbeing. Our research has found having beautiful natural environments like parks and gardens where we live can actually improve our mental health. In one study we found that mums living in the greenest parts of Bradford were around 20% less likely to report symptoms of severe depression during pregnancy. In another, we found that satisfaction with local neighbourhood green spaces was associated with better mental health of 4 year old children. (click here for our handy animation explaining our study)
It’s clear that getting out and enjoying marvellous mother nature is hugely important for the mental wellbeing of children and parents. However, this isn’t actually as easy as it sounds for some families, who may be living in areas where there aren’t as many high quality parks to visit, or where there are problems with antisocial behaviour or crime. We have spoken to many parents of young children living in parts of the city where they don’t feel safe visiting outdoor green spaces. Key barriers included fear of crime, poorly maintained or unsafe parks where problems with broken glass, dogs and quad bikes made families not want to visit, or simply not knowing where to go (or how to get there). However there were also lots of positive factors (or enablers) which encouraged using local parks including opportunities to meet friends and neighbours, letting children run free, and interacting with nature.
In order to maximise the potential of nature to improve our health and mental wellbeing, city planners, communities and health professionals need to work together to help reclaim ownership of these spaces.
We would encourage all parents and families to get out and about in their local natural environments to feel the benefits that Marvellous Mother Nature has to offer. There are loads of organisations who offer a range of activities across Bradford – you can find some more information about them here:
Mental health problems are not always obvious to others in the same way that physical problems are. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about them or try to make things better. Giving all children safe places in play in nature is one way in which we can help to give children the best start in life.
 Chavez, Islam and McEachan. Not a level playing field: A qualitative study Not a level playing field: a qualitative study exploring structural, community and individual determinants of greenspace use amongst low-income multi-ethnic families. Health and Place, in press.