Depression and mental illness may be caused by city living. A new report says that weak social ties may be to blame for the higher rates of mental illness for people living in urban areas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of living in the “concrete jungle” surrounded by people that’s makes city dwellers mentally unstable either. In fact, it’s the opposite. Cities packed with people can actually make people feel disconnected, anonymous and socially isolated. The irony of being surrounded by millions of people, yet feeling like a hermit.
Dr. Stanley Zammit of Cardiff University in Wales led the study published in Archives of General Psychiatry, where the goal of the research was to determine whether individual, school or area characteristics had a specific link to psychosis. Living in a city was associated with a 41 percent higher chance of psychosis compared to rural living. However, the lifetime risk of schizophrenia is about 1 percent, so the lifetime risk of living in a city and getting the disease might rise to about 1.5 percent, which isn’t a huge difference.
The team gathered data from more than 200,000 people living in Sweden. Those individuals were all born between 1972 and 1977. The scientists analyzed diagnoses of schizophrenia and other psychoses recorded in Sweden’s national health registry up until 2003.
The team analyzed multiple variables related to the individuals, including the schools they attended and the neighborhoods they lived in. Out of all the variables examined, a weak social connection at the school level was the most significant. This finding turned up in the proportion of kids who were immigrants, who changed cities between ages 8 and 16 or who were raised in a single-parent home. For children with similar backgrounds to the predominate demographic of their school, the risk of psychosis was lower.
Limits of the study included a lack of data on potentially important variables such as drug use. Additionally, the researchers noted an inherent difficulty in adequately measuring neighborhood or area-level social fragmentation.
Invite a few friends and get out of the city for a walk in nature. Other studies have shown getting outdoors for some “green exercise” may help curb depression too. Other research has shown that social networks provide support to promote mental health and buffer stress. In fact, recent research showed happy people talk more. Something to think about as you avoid eye contact in the urban jungle.