Inspiration & Talk Is the city making us sick?

Inspiration Talk Juni 2023 3

City life offers inspiration at every corner, everything is constantly changing. At the same time, people in cities are more likely to suffer from mental illness than people living in rural areas. Is the city making us sick? Sabine Hansky, Director Program & Expert for Urban Development at Munich Urban Colab, explored this question with a panel of experts and around 100 guests at "Inspiration & Talk" on June 20th 2023.

The event was opened by Mazda Adli, who shared insights from his research in his keynote. For example, city dwellers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and schizophrenia than people in rural areas. The reasons: Uncontrolled social density, social isolation, and factors such as particulate pollution. "We as a society need to talk more about the health effects of particulate pollution. And when it comes to speed limits, we need to ask ourselves if we're putting individual freedom ahead of everyone's health," Adli said.

We need an urban mental health strategy.
Prof. Dr. med. Mazda Adli - Stress researcher, psychiatrist and author

Sabine Hansky then discussed the status quo and possible approaches to more health in the city with Beatrix Zurek (Head of the Health Department of the City of Munich), Dr. Caroline Jung-Sievers (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) and Dr. Rudolf Tille.

These are the most important findings:

  • In 1950, about one-third of the population lived in cities; by 2050, it will be about two-thirds. Social density leads to behavioral changes, irritability, mental disorders and higher mortality. So there is a need for retreat and privacy in the city.
  • Public spaces have a public health mission and need to be promoted - this includes urban green spaces for recreation, but also cultural spaces for community building.
  • Social isolation, especially among risk groups, must be reduced. In terms of the Corona pandemic, the finding that social isolation has a greater impact on mortality than smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day is concerning. "It is quite important to recognize tendencies toward loneliness at an early stage," said Beatrix Zurek. In this context, Dr. Caroline Jung-Sievers mentioned the idea of "social prescribing" - social interaction on prescription.
  • New urban districts in Munich are already being planned not only from a socioeconomic perspective, but also from a healthy one.
  • However, cities do not make people sick per se. There are many factors, some of which are still a black box for researchers. But there are approaches to better understand cities and to close gaps, such as the citizen science project "Your Emotional City" in Berlin.
  • So is life healthier in the countryside? Dr. Rudolf Tille explained that this could not be said as general statement. After all, people in rural areas usually live unhealthier lives and suffer more frequently from obesity or higher blood pressure compared to people in cities. And the suicide rate is also higher. Among the causes, for example, is the fact that it is more difficult to get a place in psychotherapy and mental illness is still stigmatized. Another assumption from the research was mentioned from the audience: People in rural areas can quickly feel disconnected from the globalized world and thus lose their sense of belonging.

Many thanks to our stage guests - and of course to the audience for the good questions.

Impressions (photo credit: Michaela Rehle)

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