Is your living environment affecting your mental health?

Our society has long studied the impacts of urban versus rural dwelling on our physical and mental health, debating which is generally healthier for our well-being. Some studies examined specific variables like responses to social stress, as indicated by brain activity scans. Other studies are more general, examining multiple large-scale variables like the annual County Health Rankings reports sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The CHR studies evaluate health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors on a county-by-county basis across the United States, in an effort to highlight regions in need of specific health-related improvements.

This year’s CHR report echoes some long-standing pros and cons to both city and country dwelling. Country living means generally less stressed residents, subjected to fewer violent crimes and almost no work-related commuting stress, but experiencing higher rates of vehicular and premature deaths, teen pregnancy, adult obesity, and limited health care options. City residents are typically healthier overall and live longer due in part to better access to health care, lower rates of obesity and increased funding of low-income programs, but experience increased air pollution, a disconnect from the natural world, and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol abuse, and mental health problems.

The impact of city dwelling on mental health has been of particular interest to researchers and yielded interesting results. For instance, city dwellers around the globe exhibit 39% more mood disorders and 21% more anxiety disorders. There is also evidence that living in a city can elicit certain mental disorders such as schizophrenia in those with genetic predisposition. A new study published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, further pinpointed specific cause-effect relationships between psychotic childhood experiences and adult disorders, including:

· A correlation between paranoid thoughts and hearing or seeing things that other do not, as a child, and schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood.

· Psychotic symptoms were more common in children who lived in areas with low social cohesion, low social control and high neighborhood disorder, and whose family had been the victim of a crime.

· Adults raised in urban areas with low social cohesion in their community and experiencing crime victimization as a youth were twice as likely to have persistent psychotic symptoms and an eventual clinical diagnosis.

This study was fairly specific, but when examining our living situations as a bigger picture, it’s fairly logical — living in a stressful, generally unhealthy area can impact a person’s overall well-being on short and long-term time scales. Our experiences shape who we are. Of course, no study can fully capture all variables experienced in life and no one suggests that city, or country, dwelling definitively equates to a specific health condition or status. But, understanding risk factors and assessing potentially unhealthy neighborhoods or regions can help our society strategically allocate healthcare resources.

— Embrace hope.

What do you think? How do you feel growing up in the city or country has affected your mental health as an adult?