Living next to the sea is good for your mental health, according to a new study from Exeter University.
The report found that people living within half a mile of the coast are less likely to experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
The study didn’t try and explain why this is so. My own guess is you are more likely to go for a walk, or a swim, when the beach is nearby, and sleep better after a day of sea air. Certainly my sleep and exercise regime have improved since I moved to Newlyn, a hundred yards from the Atlantic.
But the scientists actually quantified the difference: after controlling for other factors, people who live within a kilometre of the coast are 22% less likely to present with a mental health disorder than those who live 50 kilometres or more away.
Another study, this one from the BBC, was published this morning, based on official statistics for parliamentary constituencies. This found that workers living in coastal areas earn, on average, £1,600 less than those inland. The median income for those in coastal constituencies is £22,104, compared with £23,785 for constituencies inland.
Neither of these reports came as a surprise to me - I know that incomes are low down here in Penzance, mainly because the jobs available tend to be seasonal work in the holiday trade - but there seemed to be a contradiction between them. How is it that people earning £1,600 less are happier?
At first, I assumed the reports were referring to two different groups of people. Of course the oldies who retire to the coast are happier than those inland - probably a lot happier - but they’re not going to have much effect on median incomes.
But I looked more closely at the Exeter University report and it actually found that the improvement in mental health incomes is even more pronounced in low-income families. Among this part of the population, those living within a kilometre of the coast are 40% less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than those inland.
And this, I suspect, is part of the reason for the contradiction between the two reports. It’s very easy to romanticise the Cornish as being less concerned with money - and it’s true. I have - because I am fat and hairy and jolly - dressed up as Father Christmas in both London and Penzance. One of the things I ask the children in my grotto is what they like best about Christmas. In Cornwall, half the children say ‘family’; not a single child said that to me when I was Santa in London.
But this romanticism is what has led to the neglect of local economies. A succession of governments has assumed that, because the towns on our coast weren’t emptying - like the ghost towns of Glasgow or the Welsh Valleys - they didn’t need to bother with regeneration packages.
Thankfully, this is changing - the government’s Coastal Communities fund has invested £200m over the last seven years - but it would be too easy to rely on this week’s reports and think that that is enough.
People are not happy despite having lower incomes. They live here because they are happier here, even when the local economy falls behind the big cities of this country. That is no reason to allow it to do so.