Los Angeles area residents may take for granted that they live near the beach, but it turns out that being in close proximity to the ocean is actually something for which to be thankful. Many people can only be near the beach during an occasional vacation, but residents of Los Angeles and surrounding Southern California areas have year-round beach access. Being near the water on a daily basis comes with several advantages, one of them being the potential for improved mental health.
What The Research Says About Beaches and Mental Health
While it makes sense that living near the beach would come with mental health benefits, it’s never safe to assume. Fortunately, researchers have studied the mental health effects of being near the ocean to clarify the benefits of beach living, and the results have been as expected. A 2013 study in the journal Health & Place found that people who lived near the coast reported significantly better mental health when compared to people who did not live close to the coast. These effects were seen not only among people who retired along the coast, but also among working-aged people, suggesting that being near the beach has benefits that extend beyond the increased leisure time that comes with retiring.
Additional research has evaluated the mental health effects of blue spaces, which are generally described as any body of water. Studies with blue spaces have found that both visiting and having views of these spaces are associated with better mental health, and specifically reduced risk of depression. Living near the beach can improve mental health by providing access to blue spaces.
Beyond the fact that views and visits to blue spaces can improve mental health, the air generated by ocean water is thought to be beneficial for psychological functioning. Negative air ions are generated over the ocean, and these ions are thought to be beneficial for overall psychological health, well-being, and productivity. Not only do beaches offer a tranquil scene for outdoor activities; they also offer enhanced air quality, which can improve psychological functioning. These negative air ions may play a critical role in the effects of beach living on mental health, as people who live within 5 kilometers of the beach seem to experience the greatest mental health benefits, suggesting that direct contact with the ocean air is especially beneficial.
In addition to providing access to negative air ions, being at the beach offers the following benefits:
- Feelings of restoration
- Opportunities for physical activity
- A setting for social connection
All of these factors can aid with stress reduction and improve mental wellness.
Does Being Near The Beach Affect The Mental Health Of Los Angeles Area Residents?
Given the fact that being near the beach is linked to better mental health, you may be wondering if people in the Los Angeles area, who have easy access to the beach, report better mental health than the rest of the country. To answer this question, it’s important to take a look at the data. According to a report from the California Health Care Foundation, 3.8% of adults in Los Angeles County have a serious mental illness, and in the state of California as a whole, 14.4% of adults live with any form of mental illness. This is lower than national rates of 5.6% for serious mental illness and 21% for any mental illness among U.S. adults.
It’s also helpful to consider the rates of childhood mental illness in California. According to the same report noted above, 5.9% of children in California live with anxiety, compared to 8.5% in the U.S. as a whole. Rates of depression among California’s children are also lower when compared to the national average (2.5% vs. 3.8%). It would be unrealistic to assume that being near the beach is entirely responsible for the decreased rates of mental health disorders in California’s children and adults, but living near the coast certainly doesn’t seem to hurt.
This Doesn’t Mean Californians Are Immune
While studies showing a relationship between proximity to the beach and improved mental health are promising, this doesn’t mean that Californians are immune to mental health problems. In fact, Santa Barbara mental health statistics show that the rate of depression in this community is similar to that of the United States as a whole. Furthermore, the report from the California Health Care Foundation shows that rates of psychological distress are on the rise in the state. In Los Angeles specifically, 9.8% of adults reported experiencing serious psychological distress in 2015; as of 2019, this number had increased to 13.0%.
The outdoor environment in Southern California locations like Santa Barbara and Los Angeles may be beneficial for mental health, but there are other factors, such as poverty, homelessness, and societal stressors that can also contribute to worsened mental health functioning. Some Californians may find the beach to be beneficial for their psychological functioning, but that doesn’t mean that the ocean is a panacea for mental distress. For those who want to take advantage of the mental health benefits of blue spaces, spending time outdoors can be helpful. Consider taking regular walks along the beach or a boardwalk, or set aside time during the weekends to take family trips to the beach. You might find that the atmosphere, and the salty ocean air, lifts your spirits and calms your nerves.
For those who do live with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, there is no shame in reaching out for professional help, and there are resources available. Mission Harbor Behavioral Health provides a range of outpatient mental health services for teens and adults, and we have office locations in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Contact us today to learn more or to begin the admissions process.