The Link Between Water & Mental Health



Water is the source of all life.


The human species originated below the surface before our evolutionary predecessor, the Tiktaalik, voyaged onto land. Despite this happening roughly 380 million years ago, there seems to be a lasting connection between our minds and water that surpasses its necessity for survival.


Scientists have now recently been researching the connection between water and our state of mind. It seems to have always been common knowledge that we collectively have a special fondness for water. We save money to visit beaches, sometimes merely to sit in the sand and observe the magnificent body of water that is our ocean.


Special events are planned at locations near water: beach weddings, engagements, celebrations, and vacations. We enjoy pools, lake and river activities, exploring creeks, springs, swamp tours, beaches, long showers, park fountains, sound machines that mimic rain and the ocean, and even submerge ourselves in the bath when feeling stressed. We have even gone as far as creating SCUBA technology that allows us to stay submerged beneath the surface to better experience the ocean. With the time and money we dedicate towards experiences in water, it is no secret that it has a positive impact on our minds.


So why, as a land-dwelling species with no special, aquatic adaptations, do we have such a high connection with water?


When diving into this connection, it is apparent that humans enjoy the water to at least some extent; however, studies have shown that living near the water can actually have a positive impact on human health (Crouse et al. 2018).

So far, we have come to understand that being in nature is essentially a stress reliever with the term “green space” used as a factor in these studies, but we are now beginning to understand that “blue spaces” impact our well-being as well.


Here in the United States, the cost of living is much greater if you are seeking housing that overlooks a body of water, providing more evidence for our collective desire for being near water. Because of this, it is easy to assume that studies may be skewed due to a more affluent population being taken into consideration; however, evidence suggests that at all income levels that there is an association between residing near the water and a decrease in natural mortality rates.


At Michigan State University, scientists found that blue spaces create lower levels of psychological distress at a more significant level than studies involving green spaces. Scientists presumed that this could be because a variety of green spaces includes man-made structures, while the bodies of water are simply natural. This does not take away from the fact across all factors (age, sex, etc.) an ocean view directly improves mental health (MSU 2016).


This suggests the need for more affordable homes near the water. In a coastal study in England, a 2019 publication provides data to support “that people living in urban areas in the lowest household income quintile are less likely to suffer from a common mental disorder (CMD) such as anxiety or depression if they live within 5 km of the coast, compared to those living in urban areas further inland (>50 km). In particular, living within 1 km of the coast is associated with the strongest reductions in CMD likelihood for people from the most economically deprived households” (Garrett et al. 2019).


Not only does the physical presence of water impact us, but the colour blue itself has a calming effect on our minds. Dreher (2018), highlights several examples that provide evidence of this notion. Stores with blue interiors were shown to be more productive, blue streetlights in Scotland led to decreased crime rates, and there is even evidence that the presence of the colour can decrease suicide rates. This was studied in Japan at train stations where suicides were increasingly common. After the installation of blue lights at 71 different stations, there was an 84% decrease in suicides. (Matsubayashi et al. 2012).


The presence of waves has been shown to help people achieve meditative states, while some practice a technique called “deprivation floats.” This is essentially a dark, soundproof tank filled with salt water that is meant to help find a meditative state of mind, and it has proven successful in many cases. Studies have also shown that the presence of certain ions may be chemically altering our bodies, for example, negative air ion conditions. Negative ions happen to be extremely abundant in nature, specifically around waterfalls and at the beach, and provide the following benefits: neutralize free radicals, revitalize cell metabolism, enhance immune function, purify the blood, and balance the autonomic nervous system, promoting deep sleep and healthy digestion (Vineyard Complementary Medicine, 2020). Negative ions have also been stated to have an impact on depression.


Also, most often when we are around a body of water, we find ourselves barefoot.


It has now become well-known that walking barefoot is also very beneficial for the human body. Just as we absorb negative ions in the air, we can do so with our feet as well. The earth is negatively charged, so once we shed our shoes “we are connecting our body to a negatively charged supply of energy” (Gherini 2017).



Water is not only the source of life but also a nurturing caregiver in our journey through the natural world.


Evolutionarily, we derived from the water, and physically, human adults are comprised of (on average) 60% water (USGS). For some, water is an escape from the stress of everyday life. We put down our phones, shed our clothes, and find ourselves locked in the present moment as we float on the surface, dip below the waves, or seek out a hot shower/bath. We fight every obstacle to be able to experience water in different ways. We have created bewildering inventions like scuba equipment, boats, cruise ships, submersibles, etc. We train our bodies to refrain from breathing to be able to dip below the surface for just a brief moment. We pour money into plane tickets, pool construction, housing, and aquatic equipment like boats, jet skis, snorkels, and scuba gear just to be closer to the water. Simply staring out at the vastness of the ocean is enough to remind us of how small we are in this beautiful, expansive world.


Most importantly, water is the most essential tool for our survival and without it, there would be no life on earth.


We take all that we can from our beloved bodies of water. We fish, acidify our oceans, pollute our lakes, contaminate our rivers, drill for oil, and profit from the tourism generated by our travel to the oceans. Not only is the link between our mental health and water fascinating, but it is also an important tool that should be utilized in conservation movements. It is time we show gratitude for all that water provides us, protect it from harm, and allow equal access to this resource for all levels of income.



I believe that sometimes important data can become lost in translation when equating it to our everyday lives. It can be easy for scientists to display graphs and charts that exemplify why certain conservation movements are necessary.


We can discuss the impacts of ocean acidification or the regulations needed to prevent harmful fishing, but the simple fact of the matter is that not everyone on this planet is going to have a certain fascination with scientific data that scientists hope for— let alone be able to interpret half of the scientific jargon that we see in scientific papers.


The simple statement that healthy bodies of water positively impact human health may elicit more productive responses among the general population, and that is why I find it important to share this information.



 


Written by Abbie Karr













 

References & Resources



Beck, Willow. “Oceans and Our Mental Health,” Sea Smart. 21 January 2020. https://seasmartschool.com/blog/oceans-mentalhealth


Crouse, Dan L., et al. “Associations between Living Near Water and Risk of Mortality among Urban Canadians,” Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 126, No. 7. 24 July 2018. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/EHP3397


Dreher, Diane. “Surprising Research on the Color Blue,” Psychology Today. 29 October 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-personal-renaissance/201810/surprising-research-the-color-blue


Garrett, Joanne K., et al. “Coastal proximity and mental health among urban adults in England: The moderating effect of household income,” Science Direct, Vol. 59. September 2019. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829219300607


Gherini, Anne. “How the Beach Benefits Your Brain, According to Science: Recent studies show that the beach is one of the best places to alleviate stress and heal your brain,” Inc. 20 November 2017. https://www.inc.com/anne-gherini/how-beach-benefits-your-brain-according-to-science.html


Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Vol 23, Issue 5. 1 October 1981. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001872088102300513


Matsubayashi T, Sawada Y, Ueda M. “Does the Installation of Blue Lights on Train Platforms Prevent Suicide? A before-and-after Observational Study in Japan,” Journal of Affective Disorders.11 September 2012. http://www.antoniocasella.eu/salute/Suicide_Australia_2012.pdf#page=59


Michigan State University. “Ocean views linked to better mental health” Science Daily. 28 April 2016. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160428132236.htm


Smith, Diana. “How the Ocean Affects Human Mental Health,” Thrive Global. 13 May 2019. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-the-ocean-affects-human-mental-health/


Tom, Gail, et al. “The Influence of Negative Air Ions on Human Performance and Mood,”

“Are Negative Ions Good for You?” Vineyard Complementary Medicine. 2020. https://vcmpt.com/are-negative-ions-good-for-y


“The Water in You: Water and the Human Body,” USGS. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects



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