The Nature of Psyche

Mental health considerations for Spring Creek

Driving in to Torquay when I first moved here 30 years ago was a fond and transformative experience. Once clear of the encumbrance of dozens of traffic lights through Geelong the rolling hills of the rural landscape beckoned and the huge majestic pines lining the final kilometre into town stood like a guard of honour, giving a warm welcome into this quiet, wave filled wonderland…

The positive benefit to my psyche was real and profound, though now it is gone, forever. Today traffic lights extend closer and closer to Torquay and the famed final kilometre has been cleared to make way for the large urban development to the left and the industrial estate we now see to the right.

Gone too are the barrel filled surfs at empty Birdrock and solo sessions at pristine Bells. Population growth and development has impact. We all feel it. Deeply. Our souls sing in harmony with the rhythms of nature. The knowing of our innate wisdom rings true, as does our good old fashioned common sense – human health and vitality is inextricably entwined with the health and vitality of nature

Science has long been singing this song of our soul too and provides compelling evidence to consider in your submission on Spring Creek.

The Malthusian growth model arose more than 220 years ago from the writings of political economist and demographer Thomas Malthus and is regarded as the first principle of population dynamics. Malthus wrote that actual growth is limited by available resources and when population growth exceeds available resources…

“Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice”
Thomas Malthus, 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Chapter l.

Increasing misery and vice is a consistent observation in my local psychology practice and in more recent research. One of the largest studies in Sweden looked at population trends over a four year period and found that greater population density was associated with higher rates of mental health problems, specifically depression and psychosis, and as population density increased the prevalence of mental health problems increased.

Another study compared the incidence of mental illness and narcotic use in rural and urban areas and found a higher percentage incidence of both in the more densely populated urban areas. It was suggested that the high frequency of signals and stimulation in more populated areas activates the stress response and people seek relief either through melancholic withdrawal or drug use.

Population density effects all ages. In the UAE rates of depression among elderly residents in the densely populated city of Dubai were found to be more than double their counterparts in less populated surrounding areas. Among younger generations a study exploring Twitter data in the USA found that tweets from state’s with higher population density expressed more negativity, while tweets from state’s with lower population density expressed more positivity.

Investigations by VicHealth between 2018-2020 show that locally both increased population density and noise is associated with depressed mood. Conversely, living near green and blue space, such as rural coastlines and inland water areas, is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety, and increased quality and quantity of green space is associated with positive mental health, particularly for children and adolescents.

Biological diversity is consistently found to enrich human happiness and provides a preventative buffer for sound mental health. A 2020 German study found increasing native bird species lifted life satisfaction as much as a comparable increase to income. In Victoria, where we currently spend $14.2billion annually on mental health, for every dollar spent on prevention we can achieve a threefold return on investment, so economically it clearly makes sense to invest in nature conservation.

Achieving tangible long term health, social, cultural, education, employment and economic benefits for whole regions like the Surf Coast is simply a matter of community choice and effort, as shown by our friends across the ditch with their Zealandia nature conservation project (see visitzealandia.com) in a valley near Wellington NZ that showed many similarities to our local Spring Creek valley.

Click image to see brief clip of this beautiful little fella

Once nature is gone, so too are its benefits for our psyche. Making a submission on the Distinctive Area and Landscape (DAL) draft statement of planning policy for Spring Creek is your way to make your choice heard:

“Option 1” means losing the valley forever to urban development and higher population density

“Option 2” means gaining the opportunity to conserve the unique nature of Spring Creek valley to improve the mental health of our local Surf Coast community and the many visitors we welcome to our region

Deadline for submissions on the DAL draft statement of planning policy for Spring Creek is 4pm Friday 29th January and can be made at link below:

engage.vic.gov.au/dalsac

References available upon request