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Urban living affects children’s mental health: Study
“A city is simply a passel of people packed in a pot like pickles,” said renowned author David Detzer.
Despite all the brilliant hues and advantages of living an urban life, there is also a downside to it, claims a
recent study by the Duke University and King’s College London. An urban setting significantly affects the
mental health of children, with lower social interaction among neighbors and escalating crime rates
contributing to higher incidence of psychotic symptoms among urban children, the research said.
The study, published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin in May 2016, tried to understand the reasons for higher
prevalence of psychotic symptoms among children living in cities.
Psychotic signs urban children may show
Children subjected to
seclusion in urban
families with minimal
or no social and family
symptoms. They might
thoughts, hearing or
seeing things that
others do not, and
believing others can
read their mind. These
experiences may also
lead to schizophrenia
and other psychiatric
disorders in adulthood.
Over two-thirds of world population expected to live in cities by 2050
According to the United Nations estimates, more than two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to
live in cities by 2050, which makes the situation grimmer for children. Many studies have already found
that there has been a two-fold increase in psychosis cases in adults and children raised in urban areas.
“We wanted to understand how the communities children live in are affecting them,” said Candice Odgers,
an associate professor of psychology and public policy at Duke and senior associate director of the
university's Center for Child and Family Policy.
Odgers said, “This study helps us identify specific features of neighborhoods that may be especially toxic
for children's mental health. They wanted to ascertain if certain conditions which are endemic to urban
areas actually cultivate psychotic symptoms in children.”
Urban children twice as likely to develop psychotic symptoms
The researchers followed 2,232 British twins from birth till age 12 and assessed their psychotic symptoms
through in-home interviews when they turned 12. The results yielded that 12-year-olds in urban
neighborhoods were almost twice as likely to experience a psychotic symptom as those in non-urban
Compared with rural children, urban kids have higher incidence of psychotic symptoms. “We brought
together our best measures of children’s mental health with innovations in geospatial assessments to test
why children growing up in urban environments are at heightened risk for psychotic experiences,” Odgers
They found that around 7.4 percent children living in urban areas had experienced at least one psychotic
symptom by 12 years, compared to 4.4 percent among those living in non-urban areas.
The researchers claimed that although a child might develop a psychotic symptom, it does not mean that
he or she will develop fully blown mental health disorders later in life. Many children grow out of them
and lead normal lives.
More social cohesion needed
The study emphasized on greater social interactions among people as they found psychotic symptoms
were more common in children who lived in areas with low social cohesion. Children living in areas with
low social control and high neighborhood disorder and whose family had been the victim of a crime were
more susceptible to develop psychotic disorder early in life.
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