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City residents live with mental illness at higher rates than general population (www.popsci.com)
154 points by mimixco 8 days ago | hide | past | web | 168 comments | favorite

Every time I visit my relatives in their rural area, I feel a sense of liberation. The air is cleaner, there is less noise, you can hear the breeze, and even the sky seems bigger. You can see the Milky Way at night. Coming from a city, it's a relief.

However I also know the dark side of rural areas, mainly substance abuse triggered by boredom and lack of opportunity. There is always a trade-off.

That's not my experience with rural areas at all. Instead, it's usually pretty noisy because of all the neighbors with barking dogs (yes, there are neighbors in rural areas; most people can't afford 40 acres all to themselves, so they live in little clusters), and it stinks because of the cow and horse manure. Just hope you're not located close to a pig farm. And of course there's all the noisy trucks everyone drives around in.

I don't know where people get this idea that rural America is some kind of idyllic, serene place. It really isn't, for the most part. If you want idyllic, you'll have to find some extremely remote place in the mountains of the western states.

Finnish has a unit of distance that means “distance a barking dog can be heard.”


I like rural places fine but the constant barking kills me.

Is constantly barking dogs a thing in rural Finland too? I thought this would something that only America would have, along with various very poor and underdeveloped nations.

(Shep|reindeer)herding and hunting dogs are common for the Sami people in the country side, while I don't see any reason for dogs to be less common for the average populace. Some would have a practical use too, to protect from foxes and (lone) wolves when possible, and of course, some are kept as pets.

It's a weird fetishization, isn't it? I think that's a really good point. Dovetails with political movements that idealize(d) the working man/class, as if poor people couldn't be as flawed and human as the rest of us.

It's pretty bold to be talking about cities and mental health when about five minutes in a small town will vividly show you the backstabbing, gossipy, popularity contest bullshit that comes with "closely knit communities" of all types. Like someone said, it's all a big trade-off. Human beings can go thoroughly nuts anywhere they lay their heads.

You bring up another thing: small towns are not actually "rural". Rural is when you literally cannot walk to a store in less than an hour to get food. Small towns really aren't that different from cities, just at a smaller scale. Things are still close together (in fact, usually they're more dense than suburbs) and walkable, if the town was laid out before the rise of the automobile. Of course, they have big downsides as you point out: everyone knows everyone so there's little anonymity, and on top of that there aren't many jobs.

Its interesting how many people mistake those for being the same. I grew up in a rural area and often at social events people will introduce me to their friends who grew up in small towns assuming we'd have a lot to talk about.

From many of these conversations over the years I don't think the experience growing up could have been more different.

Out of curiosity, are you actually from a small town? If so, what was it that everyone knew everyone?

The town I grew up in was around 20,000 people. While I absolutely ran into people I knew when out doing errands, I don't think it was ever to the extent my mother-in-law (someone who despises small towns) imagined it to be. I am curious where this notion came from.

20,000 may be small but for those of us who grew up in rural areas I don't think that's what we think of immediately when you invoke the phrase "small town." For us the 20k town was the booming city we would sometimes visit.

From where I grew up in the country we could drive about 20 minutes to get to a town of maybe 1000 people and it's very different than 20k. You probably have one small clinic in the 1k town (compare to multiple doctors and probably a hospital in the 20k town) and maybe a small independent grocery store (vs probably multiple regional chains in the 20k).

The difference of scale is a difference of kind too. And also, the image of the "small town" - the romanticized version - isn't of the strip mall laden 20k town, but of the 1k town frozen in the past.

But let me tell you both of those size towns suck for different reasons. The decay is more palpable now in the 1k town as the economic horizon has really contracted. That one grocery store is probably closed now. The 20k town may make a go at things because it has more residents and thus retail type jobs, but unlike the 1k town built environment is more gross and less quaint, and the strip mall filled landscape is depressing.

20k people isn't a small town, it's a small city.

A small town is more like 1k, where you're lucky if there's one stoplight. And yes, I've lived in places like that.

Point taken! Thx for input!

I smell more sewage in the city I live in than cow manure or pig farms visiting the rural areas.

Do you live in NYC? That city really does stink.

However, I just spent 2 weeks in Japanese cities, including almost a week in Tokyo, and it was extremely clean. Even on trash day it didn't stink.

It's by no means a constant, permeating stink. Sure, there are some neighborhoods with open air food markets that can be smelly, or some that are downwind of waste processing centers (most of East Williamsburg), or smelly because of wastewater (parts of East New York and Canarsie), but for 95% of the city, you're not going to smell anything unpleasant unless you're leaning in to sniff trash bags.

I've walked all around Manhattan many times. No, it's not a constant, permeating stink, but that city does stink a lot, though it's worse of course when they put the trash out since NYC doesn't have alleys like other American cities.

However, I haven't had the same experience in non-US cities like Tokyo and Munich. Those cities are just much, much cleaner in many ways than NYC, and it's not just the smell.

I live in Tokyo, and you'll get the occasional strong whiff of sewage that's worse than anything I've ever smelled in NYC. There are also quite a few public bathrooms that don't have hand soap and some of them you'd be better off not using. I think that the Japanese discipline to not litter coupled with the overstaffed garbage disposal workforce is what keeps the city clean, at least visually.

NYC is a variable bouquet of odors varying on the scale of “best thing you’d have ever smelled in life” to “omg did something die and crawl up my nose” all within the span of a single block. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It can stink sometimes down by the canals

I've lived most of my life in rural US. I currently live in a house on about 4 acres.

That's plenty. There aren't any stinky farms or noisy trucks around. There is a lot of grass to mow, though.

All things considered, I like it.

I live in Salt Lake City, and while of course I have a strong bias, I'd argue we have the best of all worlds right here. The city, mountains, and just as close, some of the most remote and serene desert in the world.

I love SLC, but the pollution has gotten too intense.

While I totally agree that the pollution sucks when it sucks here, it has been trending better year over year for the past ten years[0], and is lower on the list than the most populous parts of California (including the entire LA area and the entire SF Bay Area) in terms of year-round, short-term, and overall air pollution[1].



Thanks for sharing the data. That wasn’t my impression.

Thank you so much for making the counterpoint. I grew up in a rural setting and would give just about anything to take back that loss of years of my life.

A few extras:

* You can't exercise, because dogs don't just bark but also chase you, and no one cares or thinks you're the asshole for complaining because you're in the country.

* Daily life is /very/ stressful. Forgot milk? Well, fuck you, buddy, because you're either doing without it or you're making a 50 minute round-trip that costs $8 extra in fuel. Want a pizza delivered? Nope. Chinese? Hahah. Need someone to come out and provide service? Oh, sorry, the first five places on Yelp don't serve your area. Grandma's calling? Sorry, but you're going to have to get used to repeating things not just once or twice but also a third and fourth time because that one bar of signal isn't going to cut it.

* Depression, drug use, and other adverse coping strategies are literally epidemic -- my entire neighborhood of stable working adults where I grew up all ended up on some combination of meth/oxycontin/xanax/antidepressants with alcohol use in excess of anything I ever see at 2 am throughout the nightlife districts of a top 10 US city.

* Oh, do you think you might need to get actual mental help? Well, those handful of upstanding people who aren't addicts are now going to be judging the hell out of you. Most conditions are just you being weak minded or morally inept. And don't even think about talking to someone or others about your thoughts, because that's not something you do. (And if it's sadness, fear, anxiety, or hallucinations, expect to have everyone suggest spurious religious interpretations instead of physical explanations, which, honestly, as a devout Christian, I now find really damaging both to peoples mental and spiritual health.)

* Friendships are forged as a practical proximal matter and not by choice. No one else benefits your mind or academic or professional achievement, and you probably won't share common interests -- you're buddies because Larry's the most likable dude on your block. In fact, even among friends, most people hold a majority of views that you find seriously revolting, and very few people appreciate any kind of artistic or intellectual activity of any kind. Romantic relationships are even less glamorous.

* Did we go over your essentials yet? Oh, wait, that'll be $70/mo for 1.5Mbps DSL that can't stream Netflix. The water bill will be double any reasonable amount and wastewater is processed in your back yard and at your own expense/peril. If you aren't lucky, you may even need your own well. You'll also have to burn trash or contract a company to come take it. Groceries and house supplies cost 30-50% more per quantity, and you have very little to no selection.

* Trash, everywhere. This alone makes me question anyone who thinks mental health is in any way better in a rural environment. It's sick having to look at collapsing, skirtless mobile homes and junk cars and scrap materials strewn across 15 peoples lawns on the way to the gas station. Any "green space" consists of trespassing behind barbed wire instead of a neatly maintained park.

How much of this is because of the rich vs. poor axis rather than the urban vs. rural one?

There's rich rural (think of the Hamptons, Tahoe, Marin/Napa Counties) and poor rural (Appalachia, Deep South, Central Valley), just like there's rich urban (lower Manhattan, Pac Heights, wealthy areas of Taipei/Shanghai/Tokyo etc.) and poor urban (the Tenderloin, the Bronx, much of Baltimore or Detroit). I never see things like trash left out, drug use, etc. in rich rural areas, and it's usually a 5 minute walk to an organic food market. Conversely, I see trash, shit, junkies, mentally ill people, random stabbings, and so on all the time in the Tenderloin. While there may be some correlation between poverty and rural areas, it seems like poverty is a much bigger cause of various social ills.

Poverty is undoubtedly the cause in most cases, but not all. It’s worth noting that even among farmers who deal in $100,000s, the addiction and suicide rates are still abysmal because their lifestyle and environment are so unfavorable.

Also, and while it’s probably controversial to say, I don’t think poverty in the inner city is anywhere near as hard to overcome. First and foremost, you have access to numerous social services and charities that don’t exist in rural settings. You can also literally just take a bus out of any urban ghetto every day and lead any kind of life you want. If you’re stuck in a trailer park surrounded by hell, for lack of a better description, you’re completely and totally fucked — especially if you’re a minor.

>(And if it's sadness or fear or anxiety, expect to have everyone suggest spurious religious interpretations instead of physical explanations, which, honestly, as a devout Christian, I now find really damaging both to peoples mental and spiritual health.)

Yep, I've seen this with Christians: "you have mental problems because you have demons in you!" This kind of thinking is extremely common in rural America these days.

>If you aren't lucky, you may even need your own well.

Wells are pretty expensive. Sure, the water itself is free, but the electricity to run the pump is not, and even at the frequently cheaper electric rates that rural areas enjoy, it adds up.

>You'll also have to burn trash or contract a company to come take it.

When I was growing up in rural areas, the common thing was to save it all up and haul it to the dump yourself every week or so.

All in all, you make a lot of excellent points that remind me a lot of the time I've spent in rural areas.

"Wells are pretty expensive. Sure, the water itself is free, but the electricity to run the pump is not, and even at the frequently cheaper electric rates that rural areas enjoy, it adds up."

Having had wells... The electricity isn't the least of it. These things require regular servicing. Hopefully, you aren't unlucky enough to have it back up... which happened to my mother soon after moving into a newly purchased home. You need to watch the toilet paper you use because some are better than others.

Not to mention the need for a water softener in some areas. I've lived in areas whose water smelled of rotten eggs. This same water would turn hair and white clothing and everything else an orange shade.

>Having had wells... The electricity isn't the least of it. These things require regular servicing. Hopefully, you aren't unlucky enough to have it back up... which happened to my mother soon after moving into a newly purchased home. You need to watch the toilet paper you use because some are better than others.

You're confusing wells with septic systems. Wells are where you get water (you pump it out of the ground), septic systems are how you dispose of wastewater (basically by dumping it into the ground in a concrete tank, from which it then percolates into pipes with holes in a "septic field").

You're right, septic systems can be a maintenance nightmare.

>Not to mention the need for a water softener in some areas. I've lived in areas whose water smelled of rotten eggs.

Yep, this is the other problem with well water: it frequently has sulfur in it, and is really nasty.

> Daily life is /very/ stressful. [...] Want a pizza delivered? Nope. Chinese? Hahah.

uh. if that constitutes stressful, how do you survive receiving bad personal news?

Ok, ok, since you want to be horsey: ambulances take 50-60 minutes to arrive (pregnant? heart disease? prepare to feel third world terror), the police can’t realistically save you from any kind of violent altercation or crime and no one else will see it happen, there’s no public transportation and you can’t walk to town—so you’re stranded on a desert island if your car ever breaks down. There’s also a constant threat of things like venomous snakes and predators, so expect your chihuahua to get eaten if he walks out at night (happened not once but twice to my next door neighbors). The list of stressful bullshit goes on and on.

Many people in rural areas have medivac insurance so they can be airlifted in a serious emergency. I believe it used to cost us around $100 a year.

And let's be real, the cops don't show up during a crime in the city either.

But seriously, when there are literally only 2 places to go out to eat to, they likely close early and aren't great to begin with. Thank god for Sheetz.

"What do you mean I can't Uber eats here?! How do people even eat?"

First world problems...

> You can't exercise, because dogs don't just bark but also chase you, and no one cares or thinks you're the asshole for complaining because you're in the country.

Even if your neighbor or neighbors have well-trained or well-controlled dogs, you have to worry about wild animals more than you do in urban areas. I'm not talking about predators as much as prey: A mountain lion is scary, but most of them pretty well leave humans alone. A buck deer in rut is big and deer in general are just really, amazingly stupid.

Plus... there's nowhere to walk to unless you really like seeing not only scenery, but the same scenery, over and over again, unless you spend more money to drive someplace with noticeably different scenery. (Rural areas are big. You can drive for days without seeing noticeably different scenery.)

> Depression, drug use, and other adverse coping strategies are literally epidemic -- my entire neighborhood of stable working adults where I grew up all ended up on some combination of meth/oxycontin/xanax/antidepressants with alcohol use in excess of anything I ever see at 2 am throughout the nightlife districts of a top 10 US city.

Another reason to stay in your home or stick to a small group of friends with no real ability to branch out. Want another friend? OK, pick the person with whom you have no common interests, the other person you have nothing in common with but this person's an alcoholic, or the person who moved there and obviously left the big town for a reason you'll hear about in gossip which will make you very happy you didn't interact with them.

> Oh, do you think you might need to get actual mental help?

Have fun driving hours to and from the next big town in all kinds of dangerously crappy weather!

> Any "green space" consists of trespassing behind barbed wire instead of a neatly maintained park.

Yes. This is something which needs to be mentioned more often: Cities have more public spaces than rural areas, because in rural areas, land is being used. You can't just wander into a wheat field or a cattle ranch. You could be arrested. National Parks are wonderful, but most rural areas aren't parkland, and most rural areas aren't even close to parkland. BLM land is by no means even close to being the same thing.

Some European countries have "freedom to roam" laws, but they're also more dense than rural North America, so most of those countries don't have "rural" to begin with, by and large.

One clarification here that fills me with a mixture of disgust and heartbreak:

"in rural areas, land is being used" -- it's more that, in rural areas, land is being owned. Not necessarily used. I lived in an extremely rural area for several years and was surrounded by fenced-off land that nobody used because some rich doctor somewhere owned it. You couldn't hike on it, couldn't camp on it, certainly no one else could use it. What a shitty system.

And yes, I recognize that the system that permits some out-of-state doctor to "own" thousands of acres is the same one that would permit me to some day, and I don't give a shit; I'd rather structure the world in such a way that nobody could fence it off like that. Maybe as small a tweak as a 'right to roam' law in America.

This must be a US rural view (and indeed sounds like crap); I have lived in rural areas most of my life in different countries, currently deep in the mountains of Spain and these things are really not a concern. I have lived for a few years in large, dense cities in different countries as well, latest being HK.

Sure you cannot ‘order a pizza’ or anything else in this countryside (sometimes someone new moves in a few km down on another mountain who starts out delivering something, like pizza, but gives up pretty quickly), I can bake one in my homemade woodoven though, with friends who I met here and sound very different from the ones you met over there too.

If dogs attack you, they are not removed over there? They are here which is why that hardly ever happens. There have been none such incidents here for many years.

Radio beamed internet (point to point) is cheap and streams Netflix, Video conferencing etc fine and now everywhere is cheap unlimited 4g, so I can hike in the forest and take a rest with a funny cat video.

Water and electra are cheap and enough space to put solar for hot water and electric: waste is collected at waste points.

The only thing is that the ambulance comes late indeed, but you can have a chopper (for free) and the healthcare is excellent here (and free); but I would imagine a solid heartattack would kill me here, but it does so in most places, just here it is more sure. But in return for that I have clean air, a ton of space, and, opposite of your experience, far less stress; it is Spain, nothing is in a hurry here which is great once you accept it. Probably will save you a few strokes in the end. Everything is cheap over here as well, my neighbors live of 500 euros a month, something that can be picked up doing a few hours per month of coding for a city client while sitting in the garden.

The thrash also rings no bells and mobile homes are not normal (or even allowed long term), cars have to pay road tax even if they cannot drive until they are scrapped at an official scrapyard, so people have them destroyed etc.

I guess this really depends on the country; things like rural HK, Shanghai, Thailand (ChiangMai), France, Germany or the parts of rural Australia or New Zealand I have been for longer stretches are also not as you describe at all.

Also, a lot of people, including me, who grew up in rural areas, hate them after they leave for university etc but later in life start to long for them again in my experience.

Having lived in a small town surrounded by rural area for a bit:

> You can't exercise, because dogs don't just bark but also chase you, and no one cares or thinks you're the asshole for complaining because you're in the country.

This is literally what pepper spray and similar is intended for. Don't go cycling without it! You have to look out for yourself if you're in the middle of nowhere. Not willing to do that? Then don't live or do things there. Idiot dog owners are everywhere, but a pack of farm dogs is no joke when the nearest person is more than a mile away.

Pepper spray (hell, even max strength bear spray with tear gas) wasn’t anywhere near enough. You don’t have enough range for it to start working in time when they’re charging at you, at least not unless it’s one of those crazy kinds that shoots like 20 feet, and if you aim poorly it’s over.

The smart people who were crazy enough to walk or jog regularly carried 5+ foot ugly sticks (or spears/lances) and/or a firearm.

I almost had a 65 lb mastiff make it through the window of my dad’s lifted F350 at cruising speed, and that was the third attack in a one mile stretch. That was the day I decided I wasn’t ever going on foot again.

> and that was the third attack in a one mile stretch

Wow. Where was this?! I'm accustomed to clueless pet owners but that's just ridiculous. Cycling regularly, I recall ~4 run-ins over as many years (compared to none in urban or suburban areas ever).

I suppose I'd graduate to rubber bullets or even bird shot if it was that bad, but at some point it's really up to the authorities to ensure some minimal level of public safety. What is animal control even for if they don't fix things like this? It sounds like you were located in a terribly run county.

So don't leave the city if rural areas suck so bad.

I'll grant you that pig farms stink, but unless you are talking about a large concentration of cattle, like a feed lot, then cow and horse manure is just not generally considered "stinky" by anyone but the most fragile of city dweller.

Especially for those that grew up around it.

Grass fed cattle dung barely smells even when it's fresh. Same with horses. Pigs are the same, only when in concentration.

Depends on your definition of rural, to me if you can see your neighbors house it likely isn't very rural... though the American west is a literal different cause many of the rural towns have all the residential packed on top of each other.

I live in a less densely populated area. It’s pretty nice. Rural living is nice if you can afford it. Turns out lots of wealthy people buy up the nice rural places. It’s kinda like the city in that regard. Being poor sucks, urban or rural is mostly a preference if you’re not middle class.

I remember waking up in boracay and Ubud to thousands of farm animals chattering (lots of chickens, cows, etc...). It’s kind of a surreal SE Asia experience.

We took care of our neighbors large barking dogs. An ultrasonic device fitted on the side of our house emits a sharp piercing noise when it hears a dog bark.

The dogs don't bark up our tree.

Every time I visit relatives in rural and suburban areas, I'm so disappointed in having to drive everywhere. To me that infringes on some feelings of freedom, where you are entirely dependent on a car. I love where I live in a city, love not owning a car, and love the ability to walk or take the metro anywhere I need to go.

All the cities I've lived in also have pretty significant substance abuse problems. According to this article,


Rural people are more likely to abuse alcohol, whereas city dwellers are more likely to abuse hard drugs.

By any objective standard, alcohol is a hard drug.

I feel the same way...for a day or so. Then I remember that it's the peace and serenity of a tomb and miss the city.

I think the magic combo is spending a large amount of time (not necessarily continuous) in nature with a large group of friends.

It's the peace and serenity of nature, which is often more alive than we are. How many songwriters over the past century have written about being lonely in the midst of constant but worthless interactions?

A tomb is normally defined as a place of no life, while the opposite is true. There is a lot of life and biodiversity in nature.

I spent most of my childhood in suburban towns but most of my adulthood in big cities so I was shocked to discover that many city people seem to think that suburban towns are full of crazy people and violent criminals...

But I still feel that city people are crazier and more dangerous on average. The stick and carrot aspect of big cities does drive people at least slightly crazy.

That's not a trade-off. You have the exact same substance abuse in suburbs and cities. It's a universal problem.

The substance abuse epidemic is much worse in some places than others. Saying it’s exactly the same everywhere is disingenuous.

I'm not saying it's the same everywhere, but I'm also saying it's not worse in one type of area than in others. I've seen it to all degrees in all three types of areas.

Yeah, like Harlem, and LA.

Lack of upward mobility in rural areas is much more damaging in the long term, mentally, than living in the city.

What evidence do you have for this claim? The article just laid down a lot of evidence that contradicts what you say.

It's not direct evidence, but people continue to move away from rural areas and into cities all over the world, to better themselves.

People will do all sorts of things that aren't good for their mental and/or physical health in order to make a decent living.

I would wager that the overwhelming majority of people moving from rural to urban areas are doing it to better their bank accounts.

It's not to "better their bank accounts", it's to survive, because people need jobs to make money, and money to survive. Modern people can't support themselves on rural land any more, and even 100+ years ago ones who tried had short and unhappy lives (remember sharecropping?). There aren't enough jobs in rural areas to support the people there, so they leave.

Rural doctors get paid more than urban ones (even though their COL is far lower) because most doctors don’t want to live in rural areas. They choose to live in the cities despite the financial incentives, not because of them.

Not evidence. Just anecdotal. Half my extended family lives in rural areas.

Cities arent perfect. I'm absolutely stressed over the hectic pace of a large city. But I'm not depressed and hopeless like those I know in rural areas.

Maybe we each have to pick our poison.

It’s also worth noting that not all cities are equal when it comes to stress, with some being worse than others (mostly correlated with quality of public infrastructure, in my experience).

I find that cities just poor enough that not enough of rich people live there (rich people tend to convince the city to regulate how others live their lives which results in stress) but not poor enough that there's rampant crime seems to be the sweet spot.

But the article didn't lay down a lot of evidence: there's an observation by two sociologists limited by frames of Chicago's soul asylum in 1930s, and vague estimation of some Urban Design whatever, and finally a paper by a mental health researcher who essentially tells it's an emerging field, and more research needed.

Not to be overly melodramatic or sardonic but life is damaging to mental health, urban, rural, or otherwise. And not just modern life, but rather it is, I believe, our human condition.

Too many of the people I meet are ground down, sliding by, holding on, grappling with their identity and place in the world, somewhere on the scale of mildly scarred to full blown post traumatic, anxiety ridden, and/or profoundly lost.

Religion has abjectly failed humanity as a primary means for grappling with and managing the crushing gears of life. The idea that our non-denominational “community” is supposed to fill in the gap is laughable. The dream that the Internet would somehow fill that role at scale has proven in many cases to do just the opposite.

It’s not that humanity is lost or without hope, but we destroy ourselves (and our planet) in the way we live, and I doubt strongly that our genetic predisposition / survival instincts will ever allow us to reach any form of widespread enlightenment.

I agree with most of this, but I think your observation on religion is exaggerated. It's a very personal thing and I think it still helps a lot of people cope, regardless of how un-cool it is these days.

In the big picture, with amount of killing that has been done in the name of religion over millennia, I just find it hard to reconcile.

"Non-religious" systems of value, be it capitalism, communism, democracy, nationalism or something else, also kill people. Really it's values that people kill for, and religions are a subset of values. But we can't live without any values!

If not religion, then something else. Whether it's ethnic violence, like the Rwandan genocide or the Balkans; political violence, like the Vietnam war or the Great Leap Forward in China (plus the Chinese civil war); for money, such as the Belgians in the Congo.

In terms of body count, more people have been killed in the name of science than in the name of religion.

We kill with science, do we kill in the name of science?

But even so, that doesn’t make all the killing in the name of religion less bad.

If killing is justified by an evidence-based predictive model, it's probably killing in the name of science. This would include the Vietnam war ("Domino theory"), the atomic bombings of Japan ("it will be less costly than invading"), and anti terrorist drone bombing ("they fit our proven terrorist heuristic")

> Too many of the people I meet are ground down, sliding by, holding on, grappling with their identity and place in the world, somewhere on the scale of mildly scarred to full blown post traumatic, anxiety ridden, and/or profoundly lost.

How do you diagnose this? Is there a checklist of signs you look for? Do they eventually tell you, etc.?

Just curious, because I don't get to meet than many people all the time, so I can't collect sociological samples and reach conclusions in the way you seem to be doing.

>In fact, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health estimates that city dwellers face a nearly 40 percent higher risk of depression, 20 percent higher chance of anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia than people living in rural areas.

>In their review, Meyer-Lindenberg and van den Bosch found that some potential threats had been examined more thoroughly than others. For some, including pollen, there wasn’t enough information yet to show a convincing link to depression. However, the team did find a number of studies suggesting that heavy metals like lead, pesticides, common chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), and noise pollution may contribute to depression, although further research is still needed to confirm that this is the case.

The article gives me the distinct impression that the author is in denial of the stress associated with living in a crowded place. I doubt that it has to do much with fumes in the air- stress is a side effect of spending all day hustling, bustling, and competing. The popular opinion in the zeitgeist is that urban development is a good thing- so any bad effects are treatable. Adding green space may be a decent way to treat the symptoms of city living, but I think it will always be a stressful, mental illness-inducing lifestyle.

>The article gives me the distinct impression that the author is in denial of the stress associated with living in a crowded place.

The fact that he doesn't even address the "human factors" that basically don't exist in rural areas (you can leave your house unlocked and it will probably never be robbed, you don't have to worry about the tax man screwing you if you misread a sign about when you can park, you don't have to actively avoid stepping in human feces) are kind of a tip off. Worrying about other humans who you have not chosen to interact with doing things that screws you over is a whole category of stress that's basically nonexistent in rural areas".

Consider: for pretty much any animal I'm aware of, there's a notion of the minimum amount of space it needs to live normally. Somehow for people we've convinced ourselves that there is no such minimum (or it's so small as to be absurd).

Cars have not been around that long. If humans are adapted for a particular density, it's one we managed on foot and horseback. That would put it much higher than contemporary America's legal limits. The masses were certainly not doing 15 mile daily commutes in the ancestral environment.

If you're interested in the historical/humanistic perspective on urban planning more generally, check out the New Urbanists. Understanding pre-car settlements, how and why they worked, long-term norms, etc. is kind of their thing. It's also worthwhile to visit some old (500+ year) built environments in person.

I agree that the settlements themselves would have been relatively dense. However, this is missing two critical elements: they were (a) tiny by modern standards, and (b) surrounded by vast expanses of open, uninhabited space. That meant that, while you wouldn't have necessarily had much in the way of privacy in your own dwelling, you could easily walk out of the village and seek solitude for as long and as often as you wanted. I think this makes a huge difference to social dynamics and we basically haven't properly coped with it since cities of any substantial size have existed.

But within a species (I'm thinking of human's naturally) there seem to be cultural variances.

Some cultures have learned to tolerate minimal personal space as a necessary evil. But when people from those cultures get wealthy they almost always choose to buy more space and privacy.

That is an untrue generalization. Every large city has several high income, high density neighborhoods where wealthy people live when they prefer shorter commutes and access to amenities to larger living spaces.

Do these wealthy people you speak of live in studio apartments?

What do you consider acceptable minimal amount of space for a human being?

I don't consider myself qualified to answer that question, but I do think someone should study it. It would be interesting to try to correlate various empirical outcomes with available living space (though of course it will be tricky to control for all the variables, because I'm sure this correlates with e.g. wealth).

At a minimum physically separated kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom. So I'd say somewhere around 40sqm for a single person and 10sqm for every additional person. Anything less is a deal breaker or only acceptable in the short term during college, etc.

Why are you narcissistic enough to believe that your idea of the “minimum amount of space” is the canonically correct one, and that city dwellers are idiots who don’t know how to live their lives correctly?

So you at least accept the theory that human beings are not unique from other organisms regarding needed a minimum amount of space and that finding the amount is a valid goal?

The amount of space an animal requires refers to the total amount of space available for them to roam. It is not analogous to the size of a person’s home because people can leave their houses any time they want.

No, but it does relate to high density living where the home range of a person is more condensed. Additionally, we have studies regarding the negative effect of visitor density and intensity on animals.

Our inherently isolating automobile-scaled environments will always be a stressful, mental illness-inducing lifestyle. Humans are built for complete walking-distance communities, not subdivisions and collector roads. People cling to city centers because they are the only places it is legal to build the kind of pedestrian-scale density we would have recognized as home through most of human history.

I found this piece on "Sabbath as alarm" [0] through Slate Star Codex, and it resonated for me:

>One more useful attribute of the Jewish Sabbath is the extent to which its rigid rules generate friction in emergency situations. If your community center is not within walking distance, if there is not enough slack in your schedule to prep things a day in advance, or you are too poor to go a day without work, or too locally isolated to last a day without broadcast entertainment, then things are not okay.

[0] http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/sabbath-hard-and-go-home/#Sab...

Just because you don’t like city living doesn’t mean living in a city is inherently stressful. You’re projecting your idiosyncratic preferences into everyone else and pretending you speak on behalf of the entire human race.

How do we know what is cause and effect? What if cities naturally happen to attract people at a higher risk of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia?

Cities are great, if you build them for people, and not cars. We don't do this anymore (outside a few exemplar places like Denmark, NL, etc.), sadly.

I really think there's something to this. I've been living in a dense urban area that does a poor job of traffic control (San Francisco), and of all the "city problems" that I find tearing most at my mental well-being is the poor urban design.

After a while you realize that there's no such thing as a stress-free, liberating walk. Traffic is so all-pervasive that everywhere you go, you're constantly negotiating your way around vehicular traffic, most of which believes that yielding to pedestrians is a distant second concern to getting around as quickly as possible at any cost. Every cross-walk you use you have to watch yourself for drivers turning left and right who aren't paying attention. Every four-way stop you have to look around and make sure that drivers are actually going to stop for you. Blocks are short, so this is all you're doing all the time.

The sheer volume of infrastructure that's built for cars means there's not much left over. The only places to get that that sense of liberation back besides distant parks or suburbs well outside the municipal core. Any parks of non-trivial size in the city are filled to the brim with roads, many of which actually act as throughfare shortcuts for standard traffic most of the time (e.g. JFK in Golden Gate Park), so you're facing all the car problems as any other street.

After a while it's hard not to be constantly on edge looking out for the next person who's about to do something dangerous to you, which is quite stressful and almost certainly has negative long-term mental effects. It really doesn't have to be the case though — contrast the car-first streets of San Francisco and other American cities to the pedestrian plazas and legitimately car-free urban parks of some cities and Europe, and it's a world of difference. We could be doing so much better.

This is why electric cars are so important. No exhaust, no noise. They're perfect for urban use.

Electric cars don't solve:

* kids being killed if they try to play in the street * urban centres being destroyed by parking lots * elderly people being terrified to cross the street * Dead cyclists etc...

They do solve allowing those of us who want to live in rural areas to do so in an environmentally friendly way. No cities please.

Then use the cars in rural areas where they have a place. They don't belong in cities, electric or not.

And one of the reasons that cities are better for the environment is less need of transportation.

But are cities better for people if you're cramming everyone into less space and want them to move about less? If research says no, we shouldn't be promoting cities, but ways of reducing environmental impact while also reducing density when zoning/land use planning.

"In fact, the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health estimates that city dwellers face a nearly 40 percent higher risk of depression, 20 percent higher chance of anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia than people living in rural areas."

80% of Americans live in cities. That means if they all moved to rural areas, the population density of rural areas would go up 5X. Would they still be rural then?

That's actually a good question... There is so much land, especially west of the Mississippi, that is almost completely unpeopled that I'm not sure that distributing the people concentrated in the most dense 1000 sq miles would make a significant increase.

We need a Randall Monroe What If?

I live in a very rural area. On three sides of my acreage are cattle.

When I drive in to the city, which I do sometimes, I am imposing a cost on everyone living in that city because I chose to drive.

I still do it sometimes - if I'm going to Ikea I'm not carrying my stuff home on the train - but let's not pretend it isn't a burden on others.

The electric passenger vehicle most important to cities is actually... elevators.

Press a button to call a ride. Press a button to select a destination. 24-hour automated operation, and free-to-use for passengers with hand-carried items.

Compared with an elevator, a street-driven electric car is a bit of a nightmare. The closest horizontal analog is commuter trains on electrified rails, and even those are shaped by car culture.

If a city were planned like a building, and horizontal movement given over to externally-powered single-car on-demand vehicles that move exclusively on dedicated trackways, there wouldn't be so much space and energy wasted on cars.

Exhaust and noise is a problem certainly, but IMO a bigger problem is the ridiculous amount of space that gets reserved to support cars that could be used to support people instead.

If only residents went to planning meetings to complain about a lack of places for people to sleep, instead of for cars to sleep.

They are a sign of urban failure. If your city needs cars your city has failed. Go spend some time a city without cars - or sections of a city that don’t allow cars - I’ll wager you like it.

Unfortunately in the US many criticize such efforts as being like Disneyland - as if that is a bad a thing.

Do you guarantee that the legal items one would normally transport in a car will be allowed on public transportation?

I think most people agree there is _some_ use for automobiles in cities, just like there's _some_ use for helicopters in cities. It's _extremely_ limited though.

I actually think it's silly to allow guns in cars and not on public transport (way more drive-bys than bus-bys, after all) but that's definitely an edge case.

In some states, suburban and rural folks find out they like concentrated areas made for people, not cars, once every year. They love the state fair.

I believe it’s the urban planning involved in accommodating the physical traffic of vehicles the GP is getting at, not the emissions.

Electric vehicles do nothing to address roads occupying more space than sidewalks, for example.

Only when they are significantly smaller than current cars. It isn't just about the emissions, it's about the space that cars take and the speed they are moving.

Electric self driving cars are so important. Sitting in and navigating traffic are huge sources of stress for urbanites. White knuckling it at 70mph in bumper to bumper traffic, or spending 45 minutes in stop and go traffic twice a day, are certainly high stress situations.

That doesn't sound like a real city, tbh. Just a sprawling suburb. TBF 98% of what the US calls "cities" are just giant suburbs of themselves.

Strongly agreed. Nearly all of the major irritants and genuine dangers I face on a daily basis in an urban center are directly caused by cars.

When I was in Copenhagen 4 years ago, cars were pretty plentiful. (Not so much street parking.) I read that car ownership there is about 30%. Where were you thinking of?

As an American, outside of NYC and maybe Boston, 30% car ownership sounds incredibly low to me. I'm in SF, and while I know some who don't, the overwhelming majority of people that I know own a car. I take public transit daily — and I need a car to get to it.

Quick search indicates nowhere in the US is close to 30% car ownership, with NY coming at the lowest at 45% car ownership.

    New York, NY        45.6%
    Newark, NJ          59.7%
    Washington, DC      62.9%
    Jersey City, NJ     62.9%
    Cambridge, MA       63.2%
    Boston, MA          66.2%
    Paterson, NJ        67.0%
    Hartford, CT        67.4%
    San Francisco, CA   70.1%

NYC is a very large city, that really would make more sense being separated from NY state and turned into a separate city-state.

Manhattan alone is larger than many other cities, and it's only one "borough" in the city. If you look at Manhattan by itself, I'm sure you'll see very different numbers on car ownership. It's the people in Bronx, Queens, etc. that skew the numbers.

Cars are indeed around - and Copenhagen was as car-choked as anywhere else as recently as the 70's. DK/NL cuture shifted in part because of protests saying "Stop using your car to kill children"


I've driven in Amsterdam and paradoxically it's a hell of a lot nicer than driving in, say, LA.

I don't wish to conflate Denmark and the Netherlands but they've both made huge improvements in similar fashion with respect to livable cities. If career allows it I might still move because I want to live somewhere my child can ride a bike to school. Houten comes to mind.

For the average American that's like saying that "30% of the population of this city has legs". Sure that's a lot of people walking around, but if you look around and 70% of the population is in wheelchairs, thats pretty stunning. I've been to Copenhagen. It was lovely. I walked and took public transport everywhere. But the streets _were_ eerily deserted of motor vehicles as compared to any non-European city I've visited.

Fully agree with you, having been in Stuttgart, Germany for a Summer it was great to be able to get anywhere in public transportation

There's no qualifier you can put behind that first comma that makes your opening statement true in the general case.

There's also new research linking an immune response to a virus as a reason for schizophrenia, which could explain living in urban centers (aka being in constant contact with carriers), as one reason for some of the higher rates of mental illness:


I live in a residential area in a city and there is nothing worse than the sound of a lawn mower. Those are seriously stress-inducing and awful.

Here (small lots, affluent people who pay landscapers to come by frequently for nebulous reasons) the real scourge is weekday unnecessary leafblowers. I think we've raised awareness in the last year, and leafblower use so far this season has dropped dramatically, but we'll see what September is like. We might have to try to outlaw leafblowers like some other Boston area places have.

Thank you, this is very helpful. (Looks like something you could give to local city councilors as well as citizens. Though I don't intend to drag it out for years, and I'd be looking for an immediate ban on gas blowers, and also reducing use of the electrics.)

Why is that? People need to mow their lawns...

I wonder how much we're misjudging cause and effect:

If I'm suffering from mental illness, I'd be more inclined to seek the anonymousness of a city, rather than the exposure of a small town/village

(In my experience the same is one of the reasons why homeless tend to move to bigger cities and/or why most of a city's homeless population is made up from people who weren't born there).

Causation? Are we sure it's not being uderreported mental illness and people moving to the cities because of mental illness and addiction problems?

"the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health estimates that city dwellers face a nearly 40 percent higher risk of depression, 20 percent higher chance of anxiety, and double the risk of schizophrenia than people living in rural areas."

Wow, that is HUGE. Especially considering the population shift out of rural areas and into cities. We'd better get some social psych types working on this.


I moved from Toronto to Waterloo.

Productivity up. 'Mental illness' gone.

Less noise, less pollution, less stress, more sense of optimism.

It uh, just redirect me to a cookie page, even after accepting cookies.

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