PhD student Zacharia Levine recently presented his research on planning, the environment and psychological depression at the annual ACSP Conference. His abstract is included below, and his full presentation is available here: ZLevine_NaturalAmenitiesDepression_10.24.14
Abstract: Psychological depression has become a leading cause of morbidity and premature mortality around the world (WHO 2010). In response, professionals from a range of disciplines are now working together to address this public health challenge (Frumkin 2014). Epidemiologists have tracked the widespread growth of depression; public health researchers and psychologists have identified factors that cause depression; and, social workers and economists have studied its overwhelming social and economic impacts. This paper argues that there is also an opportunity for planners to contribute to the prevention and mitigation of psychological depression through planning policy and design.
A binary logistic multilevel model was fitted to evaluate the relationship between a range of county scale environment variables and depression diagnosis in individuals. Results suggested that as natural amenities increase, individual odds of depression decrease. More specifically, higher access to water, lower summer temperatures, and moderate levels of humidity decreased an individual’s odds of exhibiting depression diagnosis. To further explore the role of urban form, cluster analysis was used to group counties according to their levels of compactness (“low,” “medium,” and “high”). The effect size for access to water correlated positively with each compactness threshold. Public parks and open space also lowered individuals’ odds of depression by moderating the relationship between physical health, physical activity, and depression. However, the moderator effect of parks was largest when comparing individuals in the most compact counties. By emphasizing the positive relationship between regional planning and aforementioned environmental variables, it may be possible to lessen the burden of mental illnesses such as depression.