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City dwellers generally face many issues that negatively impact their mental health. Notably, countries where more people reside in cities have higher rates of addiction, anxiety, and depression than rural countries.
With how fast the world is getting urbanized, we ideally should find ways to curb the threat it poses to our mental health. Luckily for us, Urban Mental Health (UMH) researchers have already begun some studies to that effect.
Life in the city is what anyone would wish for. Amazing skyscrapers all around you, easily accessible shopping malls at every corner, beautiful cars whooshing past, and a high number of commercial spaces that make landing a job relatively easier are only a few of the features that make city life attractive. But as with almost everything else, city life also comes with unintended downsides.
Life in the city can get very busy. People are almost always in a hurry to get to places; hardly anyone takes note of the other. And there is less access to nature, something that science has proven to improve mental health by inducing calmness and joy. The noise, high cost of living, and pressure of busy cities also play a role in the residents' overall mental health.
In short, there are many factors at play when we talk about city dwellings and mental health. So how can we improve this mental health challenge with so many contributing factors at play? To do so, we must have an in-depth understanding of how these factors interplay.
This was what motivated Van der Wal to embark on the research with his colleagues.
The research made use of a sample scenario featuring the fictitious Jane. Jane lives in a little neighborhood with minimal greenery in a big city. She doesn't get much income and is often anxious about money. The constant traffic noise often deprives her of quality sleep, and her performance at work consequently suffers. As a result, how much she earns nose-dives, increasing her money stress further.
Furthermore, the air pollution from the traffic noise can also impact Jane's brain activity. But even more critical is the fact that these same issues are what many residents in that same neighborhood face. There becomes a feedback loop: if many people in the same area suffer the same mental health issues, it further deepens the negative impact on the social cohesion of the neighborhood and individuals.
But what if there are environmental accessories or features in the neighborhood?
According to Claudi Bockting, professor of Clinical Psychology, featuring a park between Jane's building and the road can greatly help her. There would be less traffic and therefore less noise disturbance, and Jane would get better sleep, thus reducing stress and improving her mental health considerably. This kind of intervention on a large scale may greatly improve the overall mental health of the residents in that entire neighborhood.
Reinout Wiers, co-director of UMH, says that this research presents a conceptual framework by which further research can be done on urban mental health. The approach -- which measures how all factors interact and affect the residents -- is simplistic yet crucial.
Only this way can experts come up with interventions that directly counter the cause of the mental health challenges in the city.