City life feels depressed

How life in the city strains the psyche

Scientists are also working to better understand the effects of air pollution on the brain. In a recent study, researchers led by Travis Beckwith from the University of Cincinnati compared the brain anatomy of twelve-year-old children who were exposed to good or bad air in the first year of life. A high level of pollution from car traffic in early childhood was related to structural changes in the brain of the twelve-year-olds. What this means for mental health is open.

"There is still a lot to understand - and far too little research in this area, if you realize what a great effect it has on the psyche to grow up and live in the city," says Mazda Adli. According to the psychiatry professor, in the course of increasing urbanization, the mental health of city dwellers is not being given sufficient attention. That is why he has joined forces with other experts from psychiatry, urban planning, psychology, neuroscience, architecture, sociology, philosophy and ethnography to form the »Interdisciplinary Forum on Neurourbanism«. The group of experts would like to contribute to the development of liveable cities. “It's urgent,” says Adli, “because cities are growing all over the world. We mustn't lose any more time. "

But how do you design cities in such a way that they are good for the psyche of their residents? Green spaces play an important role. Regardless of whether it is parks, wild terrain, green traffic islands or trees in the streets: "Even small urban green spaces are good for the psyche," says Mazda Adli. Various scientific studies have confirmed this. In a large study from 2019, researchers evaluated the data from almost a million Danes. The result: the greener a person's place of residence in the first ten years of life, the lower their risk of mental illness in later life.

Urban green is good for us on several levels. On the one hand, it counteracts social isolation. "Green spaces invite you to go outside, move around and meet," says geographer Nadja Kabisch, who researches the influence of urban green spaces on wellbeing at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

"Green spaces invite you to go outside, move around and meet" (Nadja Kabisch, geographer)

Even trees in the streets seem to promote cohesion in a neighborhood, as a study from Baltimore (USA) showed. We also reduce stress when we are in nature. 20 minutes a day in a green environment are enough to measurably decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva. It doesn't matter whether you are active in nature, go for a walk or linger on a park bench.

Mazda Adli's working group has just completed a study with the Federal Environment Agency, which uses brain scans to investigate whether green spaces near where you live, but also the fine dust pollution there, change the brain's response to social stress. "Such information is important because it gives us information about the role of environmental factors in the city," explains Adli. "We want to know to what extent green spaces contribute to the stress resilience of the brain." The data collected is currently being evaluated.