City life seems to take a toll on the adolescent mind, new research suggests.
The study included more than 2,000 18-year-olds in England and Wales who were interviewed about psychotic experiences (such as hearing voices and feeling extremely paranoid) since age 12.
The research team from King’s College London and Duke University found that teens raised in large cities were over 40 percent more likely to report psychotic experiences than those who grew up in rural areas.
“These findings highlight the importance of early, preventative strategies for reducing psychosis risk and suggests that adolescents living in threatening neighborhoods within cities should be made a priority,” said study co-senior author Helen Fisher. She is from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College.
“If we intervene early enough — for example by offering psychological therapies and support to help them cope better with stressful experiences — we could reduce young people’s risk for developing psychosis and other mental health problems further down the line,” Fisher said in a King’s College news release.
Poor neighborhood conditions and crime were major factors in this increased risk, the study authors said.
Among teens who grew up in the worst neighborhoods and who had been victims of violent crimes, 62 percent reported psychotic experiences. That rate was nearly three times higher than among teens who lived in better neighborhoods and had not experienced violent crime (21 percent).
Probable reasons why teens in large cities are at increased risk for psychosis include a heightened biological response to stress, which can affect dopamine in the brain, the researchers suggested. Excess dopamine is believed to be a factor in psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
It’s also possible that teens raised in bad neighborhoods could develop distorted mental responses, such as becoming excessively aware of potential threats and having a negative view of others’ intentions, which could lead to paranoia, according to the report.
About 70 percent of adults with mental health problems experience the first signs of trouble during adolescence, the study authors pointed out.
Another one of the researchers stressed the importance of understanding how urban environments shape young minds.
“As increasing numbers of young people around the world are living in cities, there is a growing need to improve our understanding of how both built and social features of urban settings are supporting and challenging young people’s mental health,” said study co-senior author Candice Odgers, a professor at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.
The study was published May 22 in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on psychosis.