Urban life might seem hip and enticing, especially for younger folks who enjoy the hustle and bustle of busy environments marked by constant activity. But all the noise and commotion that comes along with it can have a detrimental effect on a person’s mental health, including an increased likelihood of experiencing psychotic episodes and hearing “voices” in the head, claims a new study.
Researchers from King’s College London and Duke University say that, based on an analysis they conducted of 2,000 18-year-old living in major cities throughout England and Wales, city living may not be all that healthy for the brain. The higher an individual’s level of “urbanicity,” the study found, the more at-risk he is of suffering mental problems, which include everything from psychotic episodes to believing that spies are watching him.
The team conducted surveys in which more than 5,000 immediate neighbors of the participants were assessed based on their personal experiences of crime and other urban factors. The answers to these surveys were then compiled and evaluated based on individual participants’ mental health states, including how they perceived the world around them versus what was actually happening around them.
Based on the results, the team concluded that among adolescents living in the largest and most densely populated cities, more than 34 percent of them reported at least one of 13 different psychotic symptoms. Conversely, only about 21 percent of adolescents living in more favorable neighborhoods reported psychotic symptoms, suggesting that living in urban environments directly contributes to the development of mental problems.
“These findings highlight the importance of early, preventative strategies for reducing psychosis risk and suggests that adolescents living in threatening neighbourhoods [sic] within cities should be made a priority,” says Dr. Helen Fisher, one of the researchers from King’s College, as quoted by the DailyMail Online.
“If we intervene early enough, for example by offering psychological therapies and support to help them cope better with stressful experiences, we could reduce young people’s risk for developing psychosis and other mental health problems further down the line.”
Stresses of city life believed to disrupt dopamine levels in the brain
The researchers haven’t yet pinpointed why this is the case, other than to surmise that city life tends to be more stressful than rural life. The body’s biological response to these constant stressors ends up disrupting dopamine levels in the brain, resulting in the development of psychotic issues such as schizophrenia, which is common amongst those who live in cities.
Another believed-to-be factor is the lack of trust and support between neighbors who live in cities, as well as higher levels of crime. Social support systems tend to be lacking in urban environments, especially in areas of gentrification where new folks who may not have any neighborhood ties move in and have to fend for themselves.
While the majority of cases of urban psychosis seem to develop in children, evidence suggests that adults are affected, too. And the younger a person develops psychosis symptoms as a result of living in an urban environment, the more likely he is to carry it on into late adolescence and even into adulthood.
“Our study suggests that the effects of city life on psychotic experiences are not limited to childhood but continue into late adolescence, which is one of the peak ages at which clinical psychotic disorders are typically diagnosed,” says Jo Newbury, one of the co-authors of the study, also from King’s College, as quoted by the DailyMail Online. (RELATED: To learn more about how to go “off the grid” and avoid the pitfalls of city living, visit OffGridLiving.news)