Americans living in big cities have lower rates of depression than those based in small cities, according to a new study.
Researchers believe the findings could be due in part to the social interactions that larger, busier cities provide.
Marc Berman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, said that while major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are often thought of as stressful and lonely places, in fact the social networks present in bigger urban hubs can have a positive effect on mental health.
The new findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers predicted big cities would show lower depression rates, based on the varied social interactions residents tend to have. These included catch-ups with friends and family as well as interactions that were work-related or even random – for example a chat with a neighbourhood coffee-shop owner.
Their predictions were borne out in two government health surveys that showed depression rates were indeed lower in large US cities than in smaller ones. There was no comparative data on rural areas.
While the data do not show social interactions are the reason for the lower rates of depression, researchers believe that is what’s behind the findings.
“The smaller the city, the harder it is to interact with other people,” said Mr Berman said. “You have to make more of an effort.”
Typically small cities may have positives such as less noise or more green space, reported UPI but along with small populations, they are often spread out and dependent on car culture.
Mr Berman acknowledged that life within cities isn’t uniform – those in neighbourhoods that are more isolated or lacking in green space, for example, have a different experience from those in areas with easily accessible parks, shops and other public places.
As a next step, Mr Berman said, the researchers want to see how depression prevalence varies among city neighbourhoods.
He also noted that the current findings do not imply big-city dwellers are happier than everyone else, adding that it’s possible that the constant stimulation of urban living is detrimental to certain mental health conditions.