Cities Journal

Urban Living Is Bad For Your Mental Health

Photo credit: basswulf / Flickr

Urbanites already know that living in a city causes a host of physical problems like asthma and stress related fatigue and that it’s often incredibly expensive to maintain an urban lifestyle. Study after study has also shown that breathing city air is a surefire way to chop years off your life. Research in China suggests residents in the north near Beijing live five years less than their countrymen to the south.

To make matters worse, urban living seems to wreak havoc with the average resident’s mental health, which means urban life is a stressful, sickness-filled experience.

Mental Disorders from A to Z

Studies on the effect of urban life on the human mind have revealed that city dwellers tend to experience far greater incidence of mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. The incidence of schizophrenia is twice as common in people born and raised in cities than people living in rural areas.

Interestingly, a study out of Europe showed that people living in cities were more apt to develop a mental disorder, but that living in an urban area had no effect on whether a person was likely to engage in substance abuse.

Physical Changes from Urban Life

Scientists have found that people in cities often display a highly active amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing emotional reactions. Some mental health experts and scientists believe that a highly developed and active amygdala makes the human mind more susceptible to developing mental problems.

An overactive amygdala is also one of the reasons why people in the city tend to have so many problems with stress. When scientists ran tests on small-town and rural residents, their amygdala activity was quite low and so were their stress levels.

By contrast, people living in the city often displayed too much activity from the amygdala and were stress machines.

The Desensitization of the City

Murders, suicides, and rapes on the nightly newscast seem like regular events to people in cities and after seeing so many stories on city-born violence, the average person seems to find it easier to ignore problems and avoid the impact on society of crime and misdeeds.

A famous experiment from the 1970s showed that people in cities were much more likely to ignore strangers in need than people in rural areas. The experiment measured how many city dwellers agreed to help a lost child versus how many rural residents agreed. Scientists found less than half of urbanites helped the child while around three-quarters of rural people offered help.

All is Not Lost, City Dwellers

Don’t throw the towel in and head for a farm just yet. Although city life may impact your mental health, the news isn’t all bad. Problems like weight gain, traffic fatalities, and suicides aren’t any worse in cities than they are in rural areas.

Living in a city also tends to offer greater opportunity for employment, entertainment, and even access to physicians and dentists. Scientists have also found that getting away from the city for just a short while works wonders for your mental health and stress levels. With a little travel, perhaps it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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