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Living in Urban Spaces can affect our Mental Health?

Last Friday 14th December we were invited to a social gathering from Catalunya Sin Barreras, from Radio Estel. There, we were asked this question and invited to think about how our vital context and its demographic characteristics can influence our mental health. Here you can find some of those thinkings.

Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of Sociology, thinks it’s true that living in an urban environment affects our mental health. This author, in his work “El Suicidio”, introduced the concept of “anomia”, that means “without rules”, to explain suicide and other pathological concepts. According to Durkheim, anomia arises when there is a deficiency from the social grid that produces a dissociation between the social targets and the means to achieve them. That means, when what we desire (and what is supposed to be done or own by us) doesn’t match the things we can really do or own. This dissociation would be given in a specially strong way in urban spaces, with its particular forms of social structure.

So, is it better to life in a rural area? There are some studies that make emphasis in the danger of answering this question without thinking twice. Some studies indicate that a lower demand of Mental Health Services doesn’t have to be confused with a lower incidence of the mental disorder.

In this sense, in the Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría, one can find an investigation called: “Diferencias de la demanda en salud mental según hábitat”, according to which at rural areas the diagnosis can be more serious, what can indicate that people attends only in more extreme situations than in urban areas.

At the same time, another study performed by the consulting firm Spora Sinergias for AMMFEINA and the FECAFAMM, called “La Inserción Laboral de Personas con Trastorno Mental Grave o Severo en Cataluña”, found that there were some important differences in the mental health between rural areas and urban areas. According to this study, the differences are due to the called Proximity Relationships.

In one hand, at rural areas we could find a “Nest Effect”, because of the protection given by the near environment that makes it difficult to arise situations of marginalization, indigence, and social exclusion. There are, in this sense, less social issues. But in the other hand, nevertheless, there is a bigger impact of the social stigma. At rural areas it is impossible to be anonymous, and that causes stigmas and its effects to be everywhere. At the same time, in these environments one can find less resources around the mental health net and less resources for social and professional reintegration.

These things together, can bring us to think that rural areas protect, in some way, our mental health avoiding situations of isolation and marginalization, but that once you suffer a mental disorder this environment can suppose a bigger difficulty for the recuperation.

To continue with this critical thought, imagine a vast amount of terrain of about thirty kilometers long per thirty kilometers wide. Imagine it populated just by a tribe of sixty people and the rest of terrain populated by animals and plants. Now imagine the same terrain populated by a vast amount of people and full of tall buildings making up a huge city.

Regarding evolution, this change has occurred in a short period of time, almost instantaneously. Human being stayed in the first form for a million years, and in the second just a couple of thousands. Biologically, humans are the same animal they used to be in the tribe of the first situation. This bring us a couple of problems when it comes to adaptation to this new habitat.

That’s how Desmond Morris makes thinks look in his book “The Human Zoo”, where he writes: “The modern human animal doesn’t live anymore in the natural conditions of its race, and caught not by a hunter working for a zoo but by its own intelligence, it has placed itself in a vast and rough house of beasts, where due to the stress, he finds itself continuously at risk of going crazy. The comparison we should do is not between citizens and wild animals, but between citizens and captive animals”. For this writer, the conditions humans find in the city are similar than the conditions animals find in the zoo.

These are startling ideas. Are we still the same animals we were at the Paleolithic? Is the city the cause humans act outside bounds? Are we aware of the pressure we are supporting? What can we do to live in a more natural way? Are we all normal people under abnormal pressure?

We just wanted to share with you these approaches. We hope they are as interesting to you as they are for us.

Fèlix Rozey y Hernán Sampietro


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