Does City Life Pose a Risk to Mental Health?

Posted on May 23, 2016

Researchers first suggested in the 1930s that urban living might increase schizophrenia risk. Since then many large epidemiological studies have reported an association between the two, primarily in European countries such as Sweden and Denmark. Converging evidence has revealed that growing up in the city doubles the risk of developing psychosis later in life. Studies have also begun to find that urban environments may heighten the risk of other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Although the majority of investigations have focused on adults, studies suggest that exposure to urban environments early in life—being born or growing up in a city—matters most. To look more closely at this critical stage of life, a group of researchers led by Helen Fisher, a psychologist at King’s College London, and Candice Odgers, a psychologist at Duke University, conducted a longitudinal study involving 2,232 twin children in the United Kingdom.

Their analysis revealed that growing up in the city nearly doubled the likelihood of psychotic symptoms at age 12, and that exposure to crime along with low social cohesion (that is, a lack of closeness and supportiveness between neighbors) were the biggest risk factors. Although most kids who have psychotic symptoms will not develop schizophrenia as adults, Fisher notes, “In some of the other studies where we follow people later in life, we show that [psychotic symptoms] are actually related to lots of other [mental health] problems as well, so it's a broader marker for that.” These problems include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

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Category(s):Schizophrenia

Source material from Scientific American


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