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Growing up in big cities linked to a greater risk of mental illness Add to ...

Here’s another reason to work up at the cottage - as if you needed one.

Growing up in a big city may be setting urbanites up for a greater lifetime risk of mental illness than people who live in rural environments. A study, reported in the journal Nature, found differences in the brain scans of German residents living in smaller communities than those in major city centres, particularly when it came to stress.

It’s not hard to see why non-stop traffic and crowded sidewalks might heighten stress levels - but the world, and Canada especially, becomes more urbanized every year. And the rates of mental illnesses are also increasing. As Science Daily reports, research suggests that people in cities have a 21-per-cent higher risk of anxiety disorders, and a 39-per-cent higher risk of mood disorders, such as depression. Schizophrenia rates are also estimate to be double for people living in cities.

In brain scans, being born and raised in a larger cities was linked to a greater stress response in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps regulate emotion. Long-term city living was also linked to activity in the cingulate cortex, another area of the brain that responds to stress.

“These findings suggest that different brain regions are sensitive to the experience of city living during different times across the lifespan,” says Jens Pruessner, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, who co-authored the study.

The question, as researchers point out, is not how to move humanity out to the country again, but how to make cities healthier places.

So suggestions: If you could change one thing, big or little, to help your urban mental health, what would it be? More green space? Less downtown traffic? Sidewalk lanes for slow walkers?

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Follow on Twitter: @ErinAnderssen


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