Are people with paranoia and schizophrenia more prevalent in some places than in others?

I bet you never thought about this before, and it really doesn’t add to or take away from treating this disorder. What it does provide, however, is a glimpse into the environment that could play a role in illnesses such as paranoia and schizophrenia.

So where can you find the largest number of those suffering from schizophrenia and psychosis? Studies show that the area around the Southwyke House flats in South London has the largest population of diagnosed paranoia and schizophrenia.

The Southwyke House is locally known as the Brixton “Barrier Block”. The structure is made of brick and concrete with a few rectangular windows, nothing special at all, just a living complex. The original plans for the structure involved a social housing project, built to keep noise from the nearby planned roadway – which was never built.

However, the structure still looms over the surrounding city and this area in South London is where the highest concentration of mentally ill reside. ‘City’ is a key word here, this and other stories seem to involve urban locations. Can it be that madness is found in cities more than anywhere else?

So, you might ask,

“Is this where the rumors began, in South London?”

No, this is not where the connection between cities and madness started. Epidemiologist James Kirkbride has long studied the correlation of madness ruling in the cities or rather, the mad being drawn to the cities. He isn’t sure which way it works, actually.

The facts behind this belief were first noticed by American Psychologists in the beginning of the 20th century. It was noted that most of the asylum patients came from built up areas. For years, this assumption grew. Controlled studies all but proved that there were more mentally ill patients in the cities than in other areas.

One particular study was conducted in Denmark as well. This study concluded that the risk of a schizophrenic diagnosis increased in occupants of urban areas. Since this study, all other studies seem to come to the same conclusion. It’s just reiterated decade after decade.

To what conclusion

Now you might say it’s obvious that this would be true. We all know that nature is good for mental well-being, while the inner-city neighborhoods wreak havoc on the nerves. But you might be surprised how selective mental illness can be.

It’s true that conditions such as paranoia and schizophrenia are prevalent in the city, but it’s not true about other mental disorders such as depression. With depression, there is no increase in the city as opposed to rural areas. It just doesn’t work in the same way.

Why not?

It could be that an urban environment has just the right recipe to aggravate things like paranoia, psychosis or anxiety, not to mention schizophrenia. The city can even cause these things when none is evident from before, simply because of the social threats and city living conditions. In the urban environment, there is something going on almost all the time, and tensions are high.

But this is not definitive proof, mind you. There is another idea that I touched on before. Maybe mental illness is not caused by cities, per say. Maybe those with mental illness gravitate to this urban environment, or maybe city living is just the fate of those who suffer in this manner. It’s been called the ‘social drift’ hypothesis.

A newer study by Joanne Newbury, from King’s college, London, found the same statistics with children, who had no authority over where they live. Could it be that the same factors that govern whether or not you will have schizophrenia may be the same factors that determine if you will live in a poverty-stricken urban area?

Amir Sariaslan, Oxford University epidemiologist, suggested,

Shared genetic risks could be common across the whole family. Living in a deprived neighborhood in adulthood partly reflects academic achievements and labor market position, which are in turn largely influenced by cognitive abilities, impulsivity and personality traits. All of which has been found to be moderately to considerably inheritable.

Kirkbride isn’t sold out on this theory. He believes that genetic factors aren’t the only thing that governs a schizophrenic diagnosis. He feels that we must stop the cycle to improve mental health and, in turn, living conditions for the future.

Kirkbride reminds us,

It’s only through improving our social environment, that we can reduce the additional burden of mental health, and break the cycle of socioeconomic disadvantage often faced by families living in such neighborhoods over successive generations.

Although it’s not proven, signs still point toward increased urban diagnosed mental illnesses.

Continued research and observation will help us determine the exact cause of this variable and how we can help treat mental illnesses in all forms and in all places. As studies have shown, our environment can play an important role in negative aspects of life, and the more we know, the more we can heal.

It just takes time and change.

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