Geospatial study of environmental effects on mental health of children

Nicholas Bowden, University of Otago

Mental health is one of the biggest health challenges facing New Zealand. One in four NZ young people will experience a mental health issue before they turn 18 years old. Inequities in mental health issues and care are persistent and worsening, with Māori and Pasifika over-represented.

The determinants of mental health are multiple and complex, and increasingly the influence of the environment in which young people grow up is the subject of research to better understand mental health.

Nicholas Bowden of the University of Otago is leading this study, which aims to understand the interplay between mental health and the environments in which NZ young people grow up. More specifically, it seeks to determine whether young people have better mental health if they grow up in areas with more ready access to healthy environmental features such as green and blue spaces (e.g. parks and rivers), compared to unhealthy environmental features such as gaming venues, takeaway shops, and liquor outlets.

The study also aims to empower communities to advocate for change (e.g. support positions concerning liquor licence submissions and preservation of natural spaces), inform policy processes and interventions to improve health-enhancing environments, and inform subsequent research to develop culturally specific environmental measures to reflect health-enhancing environments for Māori and Pasifika.

The diverse and dynamic group of researchers undertaking this research has wide-ranging relationships with policy makers, health providers, and community groups that will be crucial to ensure the research has its intended impact of improving the mental health of young people in NZ.