Over half of the world’s population currently resides in cities, and over half of that percentage is predicted to rise over the next several decades. Anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia have been linked to an increased risk of mental disorders in urban areas. Studies employing functional magnetic resonance imaging have detected alterations in the brain that suggest a connection between social stress processing and urban upbringing and living. Whether we realize it or not, the built environment—the area around us—has a direct impact on our mental health.
Urban living can have a negative impact on mental health due to a number of factors, including lack of green space, poor infrastructure, noise pollution, poverty, unemployment, and overcrowding. It is more crucial than ever to look at the advantages and disadvantages of urban development on mental health as the world’s population shifts to a predominantly urban one.
Cities can promote improved mental health in a number of ways by taking better urban design into account. In a time when understanding the effects of mental illness is becoming more and more crucial, there is a chance that urban planning can support general mental health.
Effects of Urban Living
Urban Design, Mental Health, and Raising Children in Cities
- Children who live in apartments due to a lack of play areas nearby are less likely to play outside, interact with other kids, and experience nature; this effect is especially pronounced for children who reside on higher floors (Evans 2003).
- Compared to their peers from uncrowded homes, children who live in residential crowds have been found to exhibit more behavioral issues in daycare centers. Girls who live in crowded homes are especially likely to feel helpless when it comes to task persistence (Evans 2003).
- More exposure to natural light and the natural environment has been linked to reduced impulsivity and improved concentration in children (Evans 2003). In fact, research has shown that children with ADHD who engage in outdoor activities in natural
- Environments report symptom improvements that are 30% better than those who engage in non-natural outdoor activities and three times better than those who engage in indoor activities (Kuo and Taylor 2004). In order to prevent or treat children with symptoms of ADHD, some doctors are now “prescribing” time spent playing in parks.
- Research suggests that exposing kids to the outdoors can also help them manage their stress levels. Exposure to nature appears to be linked to reduced stress, increased feelings of self-worth, and decreased levels of anxiety. Children who have been bullied, disciplined, moved recently, or are going through family conflict have been found to benefit the most from this exposure (Evans 2003).
Also Read: Power of Self-Care in Trauma Recovery
Teenagers, Mental Well-Being, and the Built Environment
- Research has indicated connections between the mental health of adolescents and how they perceive their surroundings (Mair et al. 2008).
- Age-appropriate public areas where teenagers can exercise and spend time with friends in a safe manner can promote social capital, social support, and what is known as “peer competence.” These areas may also have a protective effect on the mental health of adolescents and a correspondingly positive mood (Aneshensel and Sucoff 1996).
- On the other hand, a perceived dangerous environment has been linked to conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety in teenagers; additionally, antisocial behavior is more likely to be supported in dilapidated and crime-prone environments (Mair et al. 2008).
Senior Citizens, Urban Planning, and Mental Health
- Older people are another segment of the population that frequently has special attention paid to the built environment.
- Positive built environments are associated with older adults’ physical and mental well-being, autonomy, independence, and self-esteem.
- There are obvious connections between mental health and urban design. Preventing depression and promoting good psychosocial health for dementia patients are the two main areas of attention for older people in urban design.
Also Read: Power of Self-Care in Trauma Recovery
Four Essential Urban Design Themes for Improved Well-Being
The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health has focused especially on a method that supports planners, designers, developers, and policymakers in improving mental health in their projects by bringing policy thinking and practical planning into focus. The acronym GAPS stands for “Green Places, Active Places, Prosocial Places, and Safe Places,” and these four opportunity themes can be used to implement good urban design that supports mental health
Issues help prevent mental illness and promote good mental health.
1. Green spaces
- These include tree-lined streets and little parks in cities.
- Because of the significant bond that humans have with the natural world, access to green areas is probably beneficial for maintaining mental and physical health.
- One must ensure that there are plenty of accessible parks and green areas in urban areas as it is good for- improving general mental health, lowering stress and depression, enhancing social and cognitive functioning (including treating ADHD), elevating mood, and lessening aggression in dementia patients.
2. Active space
- It encompasses neighborhoods that are walkable as well as leisure and recreation spaces that support mental and physical well-being.
- It entails promoting physical activity through thoughtful design, such as the inclusion of accessible bike lanes, walking trails, and active transportation. Numerous pieces of evidence point to a connection between mental health and physical activity. Physical
- activity is as effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression as antidepressants are.
- In addition, exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and some symptoms of ADHD, dementia, and even schizophrenia (such as diminished emotions, lack of motivation, and trouble thinking). Exercise also lowers the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease by preventing the weight gain that some popular anti-psychotic medications are known to cause.
3. Pro-Social Places
- That promotes gathering places, like benches.
- Urban planning should encourage a sense of community and belonging among locals, particularly for vulnerable populations such as young people, seniors, migrants, and visible minorities. Involving these groups in the process of design and development is crucial.
- Social interaction improves our sense of self-worth, self-assurance, and empathy. It also makes us feel more supported and like we belong in a community, which helps us deal with life’s obstacles and lessens feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety.
- Frequent social interactions have been shown to enhance memory and intellectual function in particular.
4. Safe spaces
- Areas where there is less worry about crime, traffic, and other safety-related issues.
- A person’s mental health depends on feeling secure and safe. It is crucial to design communities that reduce exposure to urban hazards like traffic, crime, noise, and pollution from the environment. This can entail other community safety initiatives, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), and proper street lighting and surveillance.
- A secure sense of everyday living plays a significant role in mental health and wellness. Individuals who experience or witness violent crime, have their property stolen, or both are more likely to exhibit worse mental health for more than a year following an incident.
- Feeling unsafe makes one feel more chronically stressed and anxious and gives them a bad impression of their neighborhood. Moreover, there is a decreased likelihood of walking or participating in other physical activities and pro-social interactions in areas with higher crime rates.
Therefore, planning cities so that people have regular access to green space, incorporate opportunities for physical activity, promote positive, organic social interactions, and create a sense of safety can all help to improve the mental health of urban residents. Public mental health can be promoted and cities can be strengthened by incorporating pro-mental-health design elements into guidelines and recommendations for urban planning.
Book Recommendation to read more about Urban Lifestyle:
- Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time
- Urbanization, Urban Development & Metropolitan Cities in India
- Contemporary Indian Urban Society