Student & ECR Spotlight – Yijun Zhang explores the relationship between green space and adolescent mental well-being

Please tell us about your career pathway to date (positions and institutes).

I obtained my undergraduate and master’s degree in landscape architecture at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in 2017, and I became interested in the interactions between human and physical environments. I am currently completing a Ph.D. in health sciences at the University of Auckland under the supervision of Prof. Melody Smith, Dr. Jinfeng Zhao, and Dr. Suzanne Mavoa.

What is your main research interest?

My research interest focus on the relationship between natural environments and human well-being. For the past years, I have developed an interest in the relationship between green space and adolescent mental health. I am also passionate about potential pathways or possible factors that might influence the green space-mental health link, particularly for adolescents. Adolescents are disproportionately affected by mental health problems. Potential mediators, for example, physical activity and sleep, are important pathways linking green space exposure and mental health among adolescents. The characteristics of green space that could increase the level of physical activity and increase sleep duration or quality among adolescents are worth exploring. Outside of my Ph.D., I was also involved in projects related to active school travel ( i.e., walking or wheeling to school).

How do you explain your current research/job to friends and family?

I try to explore the relationship between green space and adolescent mental well-being. Green space contributes to human well-being, especially in urban contexts, but most evidence is relevant to the general population — a dearth of research focuses on adolescents. Adolescence is a vital life stage, any factors that would help in promoting or mitigating mental health problem is vital. Green space is a promising intervention that is worth to further exploring. Also, I would highlight the importance of involving adolescents in urban planning processes. As adolescents are difficult to control their immediate environment, public green space could provide a recreational space for adolescents as a “third place”.

What’s something you have learned about your research or yourself that was unexpected?

The relationship between green space and adolescent mental well-being is complex and generates mixed conclusions. Green space might not always contribute to adolescent mental health. It is context-based, and individual and environmental factors and the features of green space are important considerations. As a Ph.D. candidate, I realize the importance of learning and listening, also, it is interesting to find out some results that might be different from what we expect.


If you would like to get in touch with Yijun, you can do so via e-mail at [email protected], or Twitter at YijunZhang6.