Helbich, M., Beurs, D. de, Kwan, M.P., O'Connor, R.C., Groenewegen, P.P.
Natural environments and suicide mortality in the Netherlands: a cross-sectional, ecological study.
Lancet Planetary Health, (2018) 2, p. 134-139.
Background: Natural outdoor environments, such as green spaces (ie, grass, forests, or parks), blue spaces (ie, visible bodies of fresh or salt water), and coastal proximity, have been increasingly shown to promote mental health. However, little is known about how and the extent to which these natural environments are associated with suicide mortality. Our aim was to investigate whether the availability of green space and blue space within people’s living environments and living next to the coast are protective against suicide mortality.
Methods: In this cross-sectional, ecological study, we analysed officially confirmed deaths by suicide between 2005 and 2014 per municipality in the Netherlands. We calculated indexes to measure the proportion of green space and blue space per municipality and the coastal proximity of each municipality using a geographical information system. We fitted Bayesian hierarchical Poisson regressions to assess associations between suicide risk, green space, blue space,
and coastal proximity, adjusted for risk and protective factors.
Findings: Municipalities with a large proportion of green space (relative risk 0·879, 95% credibility interval 0·779–0·991) or a moderate proportion of green space (0·919, 0·846–0·998) showed a reduced suicide risk compared with municipalities with less green space. Green space did not differ according to urbanicity in relation to suicide.
Neither blue space nor coastal proximity was associated with suicide risk. The geographical variation in the residual relative suicide risk was substantial and the south of the Netherlands was at high risk.
Interpretation: Our findings support the notion that exposure to natural environments, particularly to greenery, might have a role in reducing suicide mortality. If confirmed by future studies on an individual level, the consideration of environmental exposures might enrich suicide prevention programmes.
Funding: European Research Council (grant agreement number 714993).