Children living in cities are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms, researchers have concluded.
In a joint study from Duke University in North Carolina and Kings College London, they followed the lives of more than 2,000 British twins from their births until the age of 12. The children were then interviewed to assess any symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations and paranoia. These are associated with schizophrenia and mental illness in later life.
Features of the children’s neighbourhoods were carefully assessed and the researchers also controlled for any family history of mental illness.
Subjects living in urban areas were, remarkably, twice as likely as other children to display psychotic symptoms, the researchers found, even when environmental and biological factors were taken into account, such as economic status and family history. Approximately 7.4 per cent of children in cities and towns displayed at least one symptom by the age of 12, compared to 4.4 per cent of children living elsewhere.
The finding supported earlier research, but the study was the first to examine possible reason for the link. The researchers focused on four possible influences: local social cohesion and relationships with neighbours; the likelihood that neighbours would intervene in the event of problems; crime; and environmental issues, for example noise, graffiti and vandalism.
They found a clear correlation between psychotic symptoms and such aggravating factors, with the biggest influences being crime and weak relationships with neighbours.
Candice Odgers is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Duke. She explained:
“We wanted to understand how the communities children live in are affecting them. This study helps us identify specific features of neighborhoods that may be especially toxic for children’s mental health.”
The research was published in Schizophrenia Bulletin.