Greater Research is Needed on Mental Health and Urban Planning in the Global South

Greater Research is Needed on Mental Health and Urban Planning in the Global South
The link between urban living and mental health has been long established, even as early as the 1900s when city planners and public health officials arrived at what they determined to be a ‘healthy population density’. Studies carried out in Sweden and the Netherlands have correlated living in highly urbanized environments to higher rates of depression, anxiety and psychosis. German researchers from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim have extensively compared how urban and rural dwellers react to stressful situations, with those from the countryside faring much better than their urban counterparts. Densely populated urban environments suffer from high noise levels, unfriendly commuting systems, rampant environmental toxicity and a lack of green public spaces, to name a few.
Urbanization related problems faced by developing economies are exacerbated by the rapid and uncontrolled manner in which urbanization occurs. With large swathes of the population moving from rural to urban centers, cities in these economies are faced with accommodating severe social and economic inequality. Social stress attributed to a sense of no control, social disparities, and importance accorded to social status, has proven to be a bigger factor in causing mental health issues than environmental stress. Researchers in Australia studied depression rates around the world and created a cartographic representation of these numbers. Unsurprisingly, some of the highest rates of depression occur in Africa and large parts of the Middle East. Cairo, for instance, is one of the noisiest cities in the world and considered amongst the most stressful places to live. While there has been a lot of research on urban stressors as triggers for mental health issues in Western Europe and North America, very little has been done in Africa, Asia and South America. Given that these geographies are home to over 80% of the world’s population and all of the 10 most overcrowded cities in the world, there is a tremendous need for more attention to be given to the effects of urban living on mental health in these areas.


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Samvita Kalyan Kumar
Samvita is interested in include local governance, urban infrastructure and sustainability. She previously worked as a project officer at IIT Madras with the environmental and water resources engineering department.