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There’s an article in Nature which looks at the mental health of city dwellers. It references a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry which published findings which found that the incidence of schizophrenia had more or less doubled between 1965 and 1997 in Camberwell, London, despite no significant rise in the population. I am not sure if this definitely points to city life inducing mental health problems – perhaps it is more emphasis on diagnosis?
Nevertheless, there are question marks hanging over the impact that city life has on our health. The article claims that back in 1950 one-third of the world’s population lived in cities but now it is half. Cities often induce stress because there are so many people and so many things going on, especially on a daily commute.
The article claims that from an evolutionary standpoint, the physiological stress response helped mammals to survive, by acting as a trigger to keep us moving and reacting to the situation. But what happens when this heightened sense of stress continues for longer periods of time? Could this be damaging for the mental health of people who live in cities?
“Problems arise when the stress response doesn't switch off. Stress-hormone levels that stay too high for too long cause high blood pressure and suppress the immune system. And, although the mechanisms are unknown, scientists agree that severe or prolonged stress also raise the risk of psychiatric disease — most brutally in those who have a genetic predisposition, and when the stress occurs while the brain is still developing.”
Researchers are now going use functional brain imaging and digital monitoring to see how people living in cities and rural areas differ in the way that their brains process stressful situations. There has often been a suspicion about city life being stressful but it would be really interesting to know more about what impact city life has on our mental health.