The team say the results suggest the coast may act as a “protective zone” for psychological wellbeing and also highlight the importance of so-called “Blue Health” – the link between health and the natural environment.
For the study, researchers analysed data on more than 26,000 Brits taken from the Health Survey for England.
The physical and mental wellbeing of the participants was then compared to their proximity to the coast.
After adjusting for external factors, the scientists found people who live less than a kilometre from the coast are around 22 per cent less likely to have symptoms of a mental health disorder, compared to those who live 50km or more away.
For those from low income households who live less than a kilometre from the coast, the impact is even greater with people around 40 per cent less likely to have symptoms, than those earning the same amount living more than 50km away.
Published in the journal Health and Place, the findings suggest access to the coast could help to reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities.
Dr Jo Garrett, lead author of the study, said: “Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders.
”When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income.“
Dr Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, agreed, adding: ”This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces.
“We need to help policy makers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments.”