Community Clean Up & Mental Health

Shot of a wife consoling her husband during a counseling session with a therapist

If given the choice between green space and overgrown mess, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of people prefer some living plants and green to dead, brown foliage. But, in addition to being more visibly appealing, that green space has been tested and proven as an impactor for the mental health of residents consistently viewing the living area.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the homeplace of a study conducted and reported on in 2018. Having over 43,000 vacant lots throughout the area made Philadelphia a great testing ground for the study. Researchers chose and divvied lots around the city into three categories. Category one received a full makeover, including extreme clean up, planting of grass and trees, and erecting a wooden fence around the area. Category two lots received trash clean up and grass mowing and the final set of lots served as the control group, which meant no beautification efforts at all.

Residents living near the lots were surveyed about their mental state and overall happiness 18 months prior to the cleanup efforts and again 18 months after the lots were attended to or not. Results showed that category one residents, the ones that received the most work, were happier, and the depression rate among these residents decreased by 68 percent. Additionally, category two residents had a depression rate decrease of more than 41 percent after lots were greened. The residents with no work done to the lots around their homes saw no change in their overall feelings of nervousness, worthlessness, and depression. The addition of green space is what made a difference in these neighborhoods.

If cleaning up and taking care of the communities around us can make such a difference for our neighbors and ourselves, then organizing and participating in community clean-up days might move to a higher position on the priority list. Preventative measures like making sure your personal trash make it into a bin and not onto the ground is an easy way to start making a difference.

If each individual does his or her part on a daily basis by taking trash to bins and recycling, then daily upkeep of common community areas would be commonplace. Individual efforts coupled with periodic community clean ups could make a big difference in a community and in the lives of the people who live there.