Mental illnesses are a growing problem in modern societies. While the impact of demographic or socioeconomic factors on these pathologies is acknowledged, the interaction with urbanized environment is little understood. This recently launched research project (NAMED) intends to investigate the impact of the (non-)built environment on mental health in Belgium, one of the most urbanized countries in Europe.
Methods will combine quantitative and qualitative research and focus on the country capital Brussels. First, an epidemiological study will be carried out based on the coupling between data from the national health surveys (2008 and 2013) and specifically developed indicators describing each participant's surroundings in terms of (non-)built environment, quality of air and noise.
Second, civil society, stakeholders and local or scientific experts will be consulted by means of multiple case studies, focus groups and extended peer evaluation.
Concerning the quantitative part of the project, the objective of the research is to look at the occurrence of various mental health disorders in relation to the individual’s environment. Both subjective and objective measures of the environment will be used. First, the place of residence of the HIS (Health interview survey) participants will be characterized through a morphological typology of urban fabrics (mapping). This typology describes the Brussels territory based on GIS data and on the intertwinement of “network morphology”, “built up morphology” and “ vegetation” elements at the regional scale. Secondly, PM 2.5, BC and NO2 exposure levels provided by IRCELINE will be interpolated for each participants residential address, based on the X,Y coordinates.
Finally, the environmental perception of the HIS participants will be analyzed through different dimensions: the nuisance at home (including air pollution, bad smell and noise from different sources) and the nuisance in the neighborhood (including volume and speed of traffic, accumulation of rubbish, vandalism, graffiti or deliberate damage of property, lack of access to parks or other green or recreational public places).
Expected results are numerous. Quantitative and qualitative approaches will complement each other in order to better understand the impact of urban environment on mental health and the multiple underlying determinants involved at the individual level (age, gender, education, income, cultural, lifestyle, stress, social network factors, etc.) or the environmental level (type, quality, aesthetic, accessibility, safety, labelling, etc.). This research will be more generally informative on the question of the health and environmental inequality.
By gathering experts in social, geographical, medical and epidemiology sciences, this project intends to get a comprehensive overview of the impact of the (non-)built environment on mental health. Conclusions will be relevant for a wide audience and will have various impacts for society. They will notably permit to inform decision makers and suggest concrete, evidence-based actions significant for public health, urban planning and management of nature.