Suburban residents appear to be happier than those who live in rural areas and inner cities, according to a new study measuring the mental health of residents in communities nationwide.
The study examines the effects of socioeconomic and environmental variables on the number of days of poor mental health reported across U.S. counties.
“People who live in the suburbs are closer to jobs and all of the amenities that a big city can provide, but they’re also far enough away from the stress of the inner city,” says Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics at Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. “It may be that you don’t want to be too close to people, but you don’t want to be too far away either.”
People in the country’s unhappiest communities spend about a quarter of the month so depressed that it can harm their productivity, economists say.
“Poor mental health can result in considerable economic costs, including losses of billions of dollars to lower productivity and this doesn’t even include the staggering personal costs of negative mental health and depression,” Goetz says.
Residents in the community with the poorest mental health on average reported they spent 8.3 days a month in a negative mood. People in high mental health areas reported they were in poor mental health only a little less than half of a day each month.
Educational attainment, employment opportunities including self-employment, and social capital have important benefits in terms of community mental health, the study suggests.
To gather information on poor mental health days, the researchers studied U.S. Census data and information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey that includes information on how many days in a month participants would describe their mental health as poor.
Because the recent economic downturn could skew the mental health figures, the researchers used information from 2002 to 2008, a period before the recession.
Access the study here.
Written by Cassandra Dowell