Friday, March 22, 2013

Urban Living Raises the Risk of Emotional Disorders (preview)

Cover Image: March 2013 Scientific American MagazineSee Inside

Mounting evidence shows how city living can harm our mental health

depression, depressed woman in city, woman hiding in city Image: GONI MONTES

In Brief

Hidden Costs of City Living

  • Metropolitan populations are significantly more likely than rural ones to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.
  • Among urban dwellers, social stress leads to hyperactivity in the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, brain regions that play an important role in equilibrating our emotions.
  • The pressures of city life can change brain physiology, thereby increasing the risk of emotional disorders.

Our protagonist moves to the big city, seeking a better life. It's a classic?and increasingly common?tale. More than half the world's population now lives in a metropolis, and by 2050 that figure will very likely jump to two thirds. China's megacities in particular are fueling the trend, with more than 10 million new residents every year. Historically, urbanization has brought about stupendous changes?the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, globalization. Yet this urban migration represents one of the most dramatic environmental shifts human beings have ever undertaken. So one might be tempted to ask: How are we adapting to our new digs?

At first glance, trading green fields for gray grids would seem to be a trade up. City slickers have, on average, more money, better food and greater access to health care than country folk. On the flip side, though, recent studies indicate that memory and attention can suffer in urban environments, and psychologists have long known that city life takes an emotional toll. Urbanites are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, and the risk of schizophrenia increases dramatically among people raised in a city. Some researchers have calculated that children born in cities face twice, if not three times, the risk of developing a serious emotional disorder as compared with their rural and suburban peers.

This article was originally published with the title Big City Blues.


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