Depression is more common in suburbs than inner cities, new research finds
brings with it many challenges. How can we build more environmentally friendly? And how can we support the health and well-being of people in urban areas?
This seems to involve a compromise. Many studies show that denser neighborhoods are relatively better for the planet but are associated with a higher risk of depression.
It may not come as a surprise that depression is less common in rural areas.
Stress, noise, air pollution, loneliness and lack of sunlight on the ground floor of a high-rise apartment are just a few examples of the challenges city dwellers face.
In fact, these factors may account for the 39% increased risk of depression in urban areas in western European countries and the United States.
But it turns out that some urban areas are better than others.
My colleagues and I created a new study, published in Science Advances, that shows that people in the suburbs are more likely to suffer from depression than those in inner cities.
We wanted to find out which factors in the built environment are most important for mental wellbeing, so that cities can better be designed to be both sustainable and supportive of mental health.
An acre of land can accommodate the same number of people with densely populated low-rise buildings or sparse high-rise buildings. High-rise buildings can either be in densely populated business districts or in less densely populated urban areas with chic apartments overlooking a large green area.
However, suburbs tend to have a medium density of low-rise buildings. Which approach should we choose?
Our team, which includes researchers from Yale University in the US, Stockholm and Gävle Universities in Sweden, and Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, examined a very large body of source material for our study.
Using machine learning tools, we examined satellite imagery of all buildings in Denmark over a 30-year period (1987-2017). We then divided them into different categories based on height and density.
We combined the resulting map with individual residential addresses, health and socio-economic registers in Denmark.
This allowed us to consider known factors that increase the risk of depression, such as: B. the socioeconomic status or the diagnosis of a mental illness in the parents.
The results do not show a clear association that dense inner-city areas have an impact on depression.
This may be because dense city centers can offer relatively more opportunities for social networking and interaction – potentially benefiting mental health.
Also, rural areas do not appear to increase the risk of mental health problems. Instead, after accounting for socioeconomic factors, the highest risk was found in the suburbs with low-rise and single-family homes.
Ultimately, multi-storey buildings in central locations or in adjacent suburbs with easy access to open spaces – such as green parks or shorelines – presented surprisingly low risks.
This means that the type of area at increased risk for mental health problems typically has medium-density and low-rise settlements such as suburban single-family housing areas.
Implications for planning
We hypothesize that the relatively higher risk of depression in sprawling, low-rise suburbs is partly due to long car journeys, fewer public open spaces, and insufficient housing density to allow for many local commercial spaces where people can congregate, such as shops , cafes and restaurants.
But of course there can be many other factors as well.
That’s not to say there aren’t potential benefits to living in the suburbs. Some people may actually prefer privacy, quiet and their own garden.
We hope that this study can be used as a basis for urban planning.
The study provides no support for the continued expansion of car-dependent, suburban single-family housing if planners want to mitigate mental health problems and climate change.
A better option might be to invest in high-rise apartments that offer a lifestyle that does not depend on private car ownership, combined with a thoughtful interior design to improve access to shorelines, canals, lakes or city parks.
We could also improve the accessibility of existing suburbs to both city services and public open spaces, and ensure there are more walkable neighborhoods in these car-centric areas.
Research shows how social people are.
Finally, some densification is necessary to create vibrant communities that support shops, businesses and public transport while allowing for redevelopment with open space benefits.
In Copenhagen, people drink a beer or a pastry and meet friends by the canal. These areas are on the edge of both shops and nature – making the spaces social.
City centers also have less negative impacts on climate change than sprawling, car-centric suburbs.
While the study considered income and unemployment, it is important to recognize that housing choices are influenced by socioeconomic factors.
Properties on the water or on the green area are significantly more expensive in inner-city locations than houses on the outskirts.
It is therefore imperative to take action to address the inequality this creates, such as through the creation of mixed-income housing projects, to ensure that attempts to use urban planning to improve people’s well-being are inclusive and not gentrification or Contribute to crowding out low-income communities.
We are aware that the results of the study in Denmark may not be directly applicable to all other countries.
The socio-ecological factors of mental well-being depend on cultural and geographical contexts. However, the framework developed in this study provides a basis for further research in different parts of the world.
Written by Karen Chen, Stephan Barthel. The conversation.
If you are interested in depression, please read studies on the key to recovery from depression and this substance in your diet can cause depression.
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