NOV 22, 2017 5:12 AM PST

Is Your Neighborhood Making You Anxious?

Real estate agents say that it's all about location, location, location. While it's true for home sales, it could also be true for mental health.

A recent study from researchers at the University of Cambridge suggests that where you live could impact your risk of having an anxiety disorder. The association was seen in women; however, no corresponding risk to men was found.

An anxiety disorder can be crippling. Everyone deals with some form of anxiety or worry from time to time. When it reaches the level of excessive fear, avoidance of social situations or public places, it's classified as a mental health issue. In the United States, estimates are that close to 40 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder. It's the most common mental illness. While it's highly treatable with therapy and medication, only about 1/3 of patients with an anxiety diagnosis get treatment. There is no one specific cause of anxiety; often it's a mixed bag of genetics, brain function, and traumatic events.

Because there are so many factors involved in anxiety, it's not entirely understood by many health professionals. There are hardly any studies that focused on the place of residence and anxiety issues, even though living in areas with widespread poverty has been shown to contribute to some medical conditions and a shorter life expectancy.

Scientists from the Cambridge Institute of Public health wanted to look at the relationship between anxiety and living in deprived areas. To get data on this, they studied questionnaires completed by residents in the area of Norwich, in east England. Nearly 21,000 people had completed the survey between 1993-2000 which included questions on lifestyle, health, nutrition, and well-being. The data collected was part of the EPIC-Norfolk study, which was undertaken to study dietary factors and cancer risk.

Their result showed that one in 40 women and one in 55 men had Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Among the women living in the poorest area covered by the study, the risk of having GAD was 60% higher than women living in more affluent areas. In men, there was no increased risk between those in poor areas and those in more affluent neighborhoods.

Study first author Olivia Remes is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care. She explained the results in a press release, stating, "Anxiety disorders can be very disabling, affecting people's life, work, and relationships, and increasing the risk of depression, substance misuse and serious medical conditions. We see from our study that women who live in deprived areas not only have to cope with the effects of living in poverty but are also much more susceptible to anxiety than their peers. In real terms, given the number of people living in poverty worldwide, this puts many millions of women at increased risk of anxiety."

There could be many factors at play in the higher rates of anxiety in women. Their engagement in their communities, the fact that women often have jobs outside the home and are still the primary caregivers for their children and have more of a burden regarding domestic chores were some of the reasons the researchers thought might contribute to the increased risk. The team stressed that more work is needed regarding gender and mental health and that environmental factors like location should also be considered.

Sources: University of Cambridge, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, British Medical Journal

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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