Studies have shown that people living in large cities have more mental disorders than those living in rural areas and that the cause is stress. This is a serious matter when more than half of the people in the world live in large cities.
The benefits of city living
Undoubtedly large cities are very attractive to people for many reasons. There is where most jobs are and where enterprising young adults may find the best opportunities for advancement and professional development. The city also offers plenty of alternatives for after-hour activities and weekend pursuits, including entertainment and cultural activities such as libraries, museums, movies, plays, concerts, and shopping, just to mention a few. However, as with many things in life, there are hidden threats and potential costs, particularly in the form of risks to mental health.
The hazards of city livingAn article published recently in the journal Nature reviews several studies establishing a clear link between living in large cities and the incidence of psychiatric disorders. According to the report, the number of days of leave due to psychiatric ailments doubled in Germany between 2000 and 2010, while in the United States and Canada, about 40 percent of work absences are related to depression. Studies have shown that, among those who live in cities, there is 50 percent higher level of schizophrenia cases, a 21 percent increase in the incidence of anxiety disorders and 39 percent of mood disorders, compared to those living in rural areas.
Busy downtown Toronto, The Greater Toronto Area, with about 5,6 million people is the 5th most populous conurbation in North America. The City of Toronto proper has a density of 4,149 inhabitants per square kilometer.
One of the cases cited in the report in Nature refers to Camberwell, a district of south London, which showed a significant increase in the number of patients with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions in a period of 30 years. This coincided with the time this area went from being a quiet neighborhood to a densely populated area. What surprised the scientists was that schizophrenia increased twice: from a rate of 11 per 100,000 people per year in 1965 to 23 / 100,000 in 1997.
Manhattan, New York City, is the most densely populated area in North América and one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Population density in Manhatan reaches 26,939 people per km2.
Another study, published last year in Nature in 2011, showed that people who grow up in cities process negative emotions such as stress differently from those who move to the city as adults. The researchers investigated how social stressors caused by city living affected the brain, the researchers determined that two areas of the brain were disturbed, but the pattern depended on the volunteers' histories of urban living. The amygdala, which processes emotion, showed much greater activity in those moving to a city. And the cingulate cortex, which helps to regulate the amygdala and processes negative emotion (which makes this part of the brain highly important in disorders such as depression and schizophrenia), responded more strongly in those brought up in large cities than in those who grew up in the countryside, irrespective of where they lived now.
The authors believe that this over-responsiveness to stress could make city dwellers more prone to psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and that stress in childhood or adolescence can affect the brain's development and increase susceptibility to psychiatric disease later in life.
High density high rises and busy highways in Shanghai, China. With about 17 million people, Shanghai is one of the most populous cities in the world. Population density: 6,845 / square Km.
Chronic stress affects the mental wellbeing of city dwellers. Experts attribute the increase in mental disorders in those living in large cities to elevated levels of pressure and demands on performance and productivity, the escalation of night shifts, the interruption of the sleep-wake cycle, having to travel long distances between work and home, spending too much time in tight spaces (elevators, crowded offices, subway, buses or busy highways), air pollution, crime levels and feelings of insecurity, community noise caused by heavy traffic, alarms and sirens, among other causes of stress.
The escape to green spaces
It’s well known that breaking the periods of city living with exposure to natural environments could help to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and restore a sense of peace and calmness to people.
Well planned urban landscapes incorporate green spaces into built environments. Green spaces and natural settings minimize fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. This in turn, alleviates mental stress and can improve efficiency and work productivity. Concurrently, green spaces such as gardens and water surfaces provide calming settings that encourage social interaction through exercise.
A significant effect of natural scenery is its stress-reducing potential. View of Villarica Lake and volcano of the same name in southern Chile.
A significant effect of natural scenery is its stress-reducing potential. Research carried out in the United States and Sweden concluded that just visually experiencing a natural setting reduces stress. Furthermore, studies have shown that outdoor activities and exercise can improve cognitive function, learning, alertness and memory in young people, while greenery in gardens, parks and walkways can help to relieve stress, depression, symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in aging adults.
Residents of small towns enjoy nature and a simple lifestyle. This is "downtown" Futaleufú in the Aysén Region of Chile. The village is home to about 1000 people. Population density: 1.4 inhabitants per square kilometer.