Studies: Big cities make people sick

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Big cities make people sick

For many people, life in the big city has a negative impact on the psyche, the doctors agree. However, it is not possible to determine exactly which factors are responsible for the change in health. The noise and living together in confined spaces certainly contribute to this. Cities do not come to "rest". There is always something going on. Especially for young people, a reason to move to the big city. You can even tell from a person's brain whether he grew up in the big city or in the country.

For Mazda Adli, head of the Affective Disorders research department at the Charité in Berlin and chief physician at the Fliedner Clinic, continuous stimulation means stress for people. For years, the doctor has been investigating the extent to which major cities have an impact on mental health. "Presumably it is the mixture of social density and social isolation that makes the city stress," he says.

Around half of humanity currently lives in cities. ascending trend
Various studies came to the conclusion that urban people have a twice as high risk of developing schizophrenia. Depression is 1.4 times that of rural residents (Os, Nature 2010). "There is even a dose-response ratio: the larger the city, the higher the risk of schizophrenia. This factor is comparable to that of cannabis use, which is a well-known risk factor for schizophrenia," says Adli. In contrast, addictions occur equally frequently in city and country.

Big cities are changing people "There are two theses. One is: The city changes people. The other: Unstable people tend to move to the city. However, a number of studies show that the former applies," says Adli. "Cities are changing the way stress processing emotion works."

A study from Mannheim (Lederbogen, Nature 2011) shows that the brains of large cities react differently and significantly more sensitively to negative stress than those of small towns. The difference becomes even clearer with rural residents. This was shown when solving difficult math problems plus critical feedback -

"The longer a person has spent in the city, perhaps even as a child, the lower their ability to control emotions. And this vulnerability remains - even if you move to the countryside as an adult." However, city life does not necessarily make you sick. Of course, genetic factors and environmental influences also play a role.

For Adli, stress is relevant to health if the individual does not only feel restricted in space. This, coupled with the feeling that you cannot control your surroundings, has a negative impact. "This is the toxic mix." This is probably why, for example, migrants who live together in a socially weaker district are less likely to become mentally ill than those who live alone in a better-off environment.

More collaboration between urban planners and psychiatrists Prof. Andreas Heinz, director of the Charité Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, sees an active problem in the active social exclusion of immigrants. In London, the number of mental illnesses among migrants from the Caribbean is eight times higher than among locals. "If too many established social structures are saved, the safety net will break at some point." Gentrification of streets and entire neighborhoods would not only displace long-established residents, but would also eliminate their contact points. In return, this means that youth centers, advice centers and meeting opportunities must be kept open.

Changes in urban planning can counteract this. For example, wider sidewalks can offer space for a bench in front of the house. More green spaces could be used as meeting points where social exchange develops and which is promoted with each other. This can counteract social isolation

"Every chat with the neighbors is good," says Adli, and Heinz emphasizes: "A park where barbecues are served brings more than a perfect green area in which 'treading the lawn is prohibited'." City planners and architects should work more closely with psychiatrists, according to the researchers. Prof. Florian Holsboer, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry (Munich), advises: "Everyone must be aware of their individual health risks and decide whether they want to take advantage of the opportunity that city life offers." (fr)

Image: Lupo /

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Video: Why millennials should move to smaller cities and towns. Andy Vargas. TEDxBU

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