Big cities tend to have the reputation of being exhausting and impersonal as everyone rushes around anonymously amidst busy streets. However, researchers at the University of Chicago found that the fleeting (and often forgotten) connections people make in a city can actually help make urban dwellers less prone to depression.
These superficial connections, like when the barista who hands you your morning coffee flashes you a big smile or the “thanks” you receive when holding a door open for someone, are social interactions that happen more frequently in big cities. According to the data sets for depression rates in urban areas across the US, these seemingly trivial connections help protect people from developing depression.
The researchers behind the study focused exclusively on depression and not on other mental health conditions such as anxiety, which could be made worse by living in a big city, but despite the study’s drawbacks, the authors believe that their research opens an arena for future research that strives to determine the aspects of urban environments that boost wellbeing.
So far, the findings make a case for diverting more resources to smaller cities for treating depression, as well as for leaders of less populated areas to shape their environment in a way that creates more opportunities for people to make connections.
Marc Berman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago says that it would be “super interesting if we can continue to identify the properties of larger cities that promote psychological benefits while trying to eliminate some of the negatives of large urban living such as crime, poverty, and inequality. Doing so might help us to have a more sustainable future, including better mental health.”
Despite these findings, research still holds true that more green spaces also improve mental health, so if cities can strike a balance between a busy life and natural space, they could have a recipe for happy, healthy residents.
Source Study: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America—Evidence and theory for lower rates of depression in larger US urban areas