Does City Living Produce Stress and Anxiety? | Mental Health Blog

Safer Living in a City

Stress and Anxiety

Residents of large urban areas are actually at a lower risk of physical harm than their counterparts who live in more rural settings.

In the post-World War II decades of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, many people began believing they could provide a more idyllic life for their families by moving out of big cities.  Whether they relocated to nearby suburbia or farther out into the countryside, these former city dwellers felt they were arriving at a safer destination.  These concepts have stuck with many of us, especially as we take note of the many media reports through the years focusing on the high crime rates in a number of urban centers across the United States.  But according to new research and many mental health articles, we may have gotten it backward, at least in some ways.  The reality just might be that cities are the safest places in which to reside.

The study, which took place at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, found that residents of large urban areas are actually at a lower risk of physical harm than their counterparts who live in more rural settings.1 Walsh, Bryan. “In Town vs. Country, It Turns Out That Cities Are the Safest Places to Live.” Time. 23 July 2013. Accessed 28 July 2013. http://science.time.com/2013/07/23/in-town-versus-country-it-turns-out-that-cities-are-the-safest-places-to-live   The scientists focused on fatalities due to injury, which is a death caused by virtually any type of accident or violent crime.  They pored over data from across the United States between 1999 and 2006, which included 1,295,919 injury deaths.  The numbers showed that those living in a more rural area face a more than 20 percent greater likelihood of experiencing an accidental or violent crime death over those who are city dwellers.

How can that be possible when we all know that violent crimes are much more prevalent in cities than in the country?  What it comes down to is that even in most large, heavily populated cities, the chance of dying from a gunshot, knife wound, or other violent act is still fairly small.  And a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that instances of gun homicide have dropped by 49 percent from their peak in 1993, at least through 2010.2 Cohn, D’Vera; et al. “Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware.” Pew Social Trends. 7 May 2013. Accessed 29 July 2013. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware   Plus, guns are owned by plenty of rural residents as well as city folk.  In fact, when the risk of dying from a gunshot was compared between the overall population of those living in either a city or the country, the statistics were very similar.  Upon further breakdown, it turns out that adults between the ages of 20 and 44 are most at risk for death by firearm in a city.  But in contrast, children and adults over the age of 45 are most at risk for death by firearm in a rural setting.  It may be that crime is more often involved in the urban gun fatalities, but the accidental shootings and suicides that may make up more of the rural gun fatalities still count every bit as much.

But a far bigger culprit lies in the cars most of us drive or ride in daily and rely so heavily upon to get us from point A to point B.  Which brings us to how living in a city–where the expense and sheer nuisance of keeping a car when there are typically a variety of public transportation options and more places are readily accessible on foot–comes out way on top of country life.  Because in rural areas, everyone needs a vehicle to cover the longer distances, not to mention the fact that congestion on city streets imposes a de facto speed limit. Then, combine the higher automobile owner rates in rural areas with occurrences of driving late at night when exhausted or any time you are distracted and on the cell phone–or worse yet, texting–and you have the potential for disaster.  That is why city residents face a 10.58 death rate per 100,000 people, while for rural residents, it climbs to 27.61 deaths per 100,000.

Obviously becoming the victim of a violent crime in the city or getting into an accident with a reckless driver in the country is out of our control, but there are pros and cons to both settings.  For example, a 2011 study at the University of Heidelberg in Mannheim, Germany, found that an urban environment typically produces much more stress and anxiety in its residents than the slower paced lifestyle in the countryside, which results in a greater risk of developing a mood or anxiety disorder.3 Lederbogen, Florian; et al. “City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans.” Nature. 22 June 2011. Accessed 29 July 2013. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7352/full/nature10190.html And we all know that stress can bring on a plethora of illnesses as well.  In the end, it’s up to you to make positive, healthy choices that are right for you and help you achieve a balanced, happy life wherever you may live.

References   [ + ]

1. Walsh, Bryan. “In Town vs. Country, It Turns Out That Cities Are the Safest Places to Live.” Time. 23 July 2013. Accessed 28 July 2013. http://science.time.com/2013/07/23/in-town-versus-country-it-turns-out-that-cities-are-the-safest-places-to-live
2. Cohn, D’Vera; et al. “Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware.” Pew Social Trends. 7 May 2013. Accessed 29 July 2013. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware
3. Lederbogen, Florian; et al. “City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans.” Nature. 22 June 2011. Accessed 29 July 2013. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7352/full/nature10190.html

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