Mental disorders linked to derelict land

February 22, 2016

A statistical analysis of the UK city of Glasgow has found a link between mental disorders and the presence of vacant and derelict land nearby.

The link indicates that areas with greater vacant and derelict land (VDL) will on the whole exhibit higher rates of mental health issues. But the researchers behind the analysis claim that the connection could be alleviated if the affected communities had a role in the urban-planning process.

“The relationship between VDL and inequitable health outcomes presents an opportunity for communities, urban planners, and governmental authorities to improve a neighbourhood’s physical condition,” said Juliana Maantay of City University of New York (CUNY), US. “[This] in turn will reduce the negative effects of stressors, thereby increasing resilience among the population, making them less vulnerable and more likely to stay healthier, both mentally and physically.”

Previous geographic analyses of mental health have uncovered a range of stressors, including housing density, building quality, street lighting, petty crime, access to green space and traffic noise. But according to Maantay, VDL has not been specifically analysed, despite being a concept that is easy both to grasp and to rectify.

Maantay and her colleague Andrew Maroko at CUNY focused their analysis on Glasgow because the city has one of the worst overall health rankings in the developed world, with double the mental disorders per capita of the rest of Scotland. Across the city itself, however, there are large variations in mental health.

The researchers gathered geographical data on VDL, mental-health prescriptions and other socio-economic factors in Glasgow, before applying statistical methods to test for associations.

They found that there was a positive correlation between VDL density and deprivation in general. What’s more, there was a positive association between VDL density and the proportion of the population prescribed medication for anxiety, depression or psychosis.

“VDL can be a fairly robust environmental stressor, with the potential to exacerbate existing health conditions and may also trigger many types of health problems,” said Maantay. “Chronic exposures to environmental stressors can have both psychological and physical effects on the proximate population. Although we can’t at this stage definitively say that VDL ‘causes’ health problems, it may be an important contributor to overall health, including mental health.”

One of the reasons Maantay and Maroko recommend the involvement of communities in local planning is to avoid some of the potentially harmful effects of over-gentrification: displacement from rising property values or alienation by new, affluent residents, for example. “Of course, actual displacement to other areas causes even greater stressors on the residents who are forced to move, often resulting in mourning over loss of community and social support network, and feelings of intense disorientation and dislocation,” said Maantay.

Maantay and Maroko reported their findings in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) in the ERL Focus on Environmental Justice: New Directions in International Research.

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