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Can “Big City” Living Contribute to Depression and Other Mental Health Issues?

People_Walking_in_City_175x131Have you ever wondered if our surroundings and places of living may be major contributors to our sense of well-being, and whether these factors have lead to the meteoric rise in mental health conditions such as depression, in western society?  I myself have the perspective of having been born in the small Caribbean island of Trinidad where I spent the first seventeen years of my life.  For the next thirty-two years, I lived in Canada, most of which were spent living in the large city of Toronto, as well as in one of its suburban cities called Markham.  I since returned to live in Trinidad in March 2011, and so I have the perspective of “big city” and suburban living in Toronto as compared to “small town” living in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  I can tell you without hesitation, that my mental and emotional health, as well as my sense of community have been substantially better in Trinidad than it ever was in Toronto, Canada.

We are primarily social beings who need love and support for our well being and very existence!  So when these are lacking, as is often the case in big city and suburban living in countries such as America and Canada, it can lead to depression and other mental health issues.  In October 2012, polling company Ipsos-Reid found that 22 per cent of Canadian workers were experiencing depression, which is a similar percentage to what earlier studies had found in the population at large.  According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the symptoms included feelings of sadness, worthlessness, impatience and loss of interest or pleasure in typically enjoyable activity, as well as appetite and weight.  These changes in mood inevitably affect an individual’s attitude to family, social settings and work.

The information below is a summary taken from a research paper written by J. Eric Oliver entitled “Mental Life and the Metropolis in Suburban America”:

“Looking at the data from the ACLS, two important characteristics that differentiate metropolitan places are related to their residents’ self-reported psychological well being. The first is population density. People in places with a higher population density report less satisfaction with their surroundings, feel less safe, and are more likely to report feelings of depression than people in less dense environments. Of course, dissatisfaction with the physical surroundings is not the sole cause of depression in dense settings – people in larger places and more residentially predominant places also express dissatisfaction with their neighborhoods but are no more likely to be depressed. Nevertheless, being surrounded by more people in a small space does correspond with greater emotional distress.

“The second, and by far, more consistent environmental determinant of psychological well being is place affluence, only the direction of this effect is quite surprising…Cities and suburbs are political creations and many affluent places were incorporated by the middle and upper classes in order to shield themselves from sharing political power or public services with poorer residents of the metropolitan area (Teaford 1979)…The sense of separation, malaise, and alienation that so many writers and artists perceive in suburban life, may actually arise from the social isolation in such affluent places. Ironically, in isolating themselves from the greater metropolitan community with zoning restrictions and other mechanisms of exclusion, residents of affluent communities may also create a culture of isolation that undermines their own psychological well being.”

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