The Link Between Where You Live and Your Anxiety Levels

New research suggests gender matters, too.

Women living in poorer areas are over 60 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety than women living in higher-income areas, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. Interestingly, this link between location and anxiety didn’t seem to apply to men.

For the study, published in the journal BMJ Open, researchers analyzed health and lifestyle questionnaire answers from 21,000 people in England. (The data came from existing research conducted between 1993 and 2000.) The researchers looked for associations between living in poor areas and anxiety disorders, which the study press release defines as “excessive worry, fear and a tendency to avoid potentially stressful situations including social gatherings.”

“Anxiety disorders can be very disabling, affecting people’s life, work and relationships, and increasing the risk of depression, substance misuse and serious medical conditions,” researcher Olivia Remes, PhD candidate at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care said in the press release.

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The press release also outlines how common, and costly, anxiety disorders are: It’s estimated that the U.S. spends $42.3 million per year treating these issues. However, as we’ve written about before, the unique stresses that poverty places on the brain and body — in addition to policy and societal stigma — can present a variety of obstacles for lower-income people to address mental health issues. These new findings suggests that this particularly difficult for women living in poverty.

These women “not only have to cope with the effects of living in poverty,” as Remes explains, but are “much more susceptible to anxiety than their peers.” Remes adds that given the prevalence of poverty worldwide, “this puts many millions of women at risk of anxiety.”

As to why this study found a stronger link between women living in poor areas and anxiety than men, the researchers suspect it might be because women are more “embedded in their communities than men,” according to the press release, so the “stress and strain of living in impoverished communities seems to affect them more.” Additionally, women often juggle multiple roles, something potentially exacerbated by poverty — not being able to afford assistance with childcare or care-taking generally, for example, or having to work multiple jobs — which only “adds to their burden.”

While more research is needed to investigate the links between location, anxiety and gender, these findings suggest that policy should be shaped in response to where people live, Dr. Louise Lafortune, senior research associate at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, said in the press release. She adds that “it’s evident from our study that we need to take into account gender when determining what action to take,” especially at a “time of scarce economic and health-related resources.”

Read more about the findings here.