Growing up among the high-rises, smog and bustling streets of a city may significantly increase the risk of psychotic episodes such as hearing voices and paranoia, a new study has shown.
Teenagers raised in major cities in England and Wales were 40 per cent more likely to have had psychotic experiences than those living in a rural environment.
Researchers at King’s College London and Duke University in North Carolina studied 2,000 British 18-year-olds for the paper, published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Among teenagers living in the largest and most densely populated cities, more than a third – 34 per cent – reported psychotic symptoms between the age of 12 and 18, they found.
Participants were considered to have suffered from psychosis if they had reported at least one of 13 potential experiences, which included hearing voices, believing spies were watching them or their food was being poisoned.
“These findings highlight the importance of early, preventative strategies for reducing psychosis risk and suggests that adolescents living in threatening neighbourhoods within cities should be made a priority,” said Dr Helen Fisher, one of the researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.
“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.”
Crime was a strong contributing factor, the study found. Among teenagers who had grown up in the most deprived neighbourhoods and been a victim of violent crime, 62 per cent reported psychotic experiences.
Adolescents are especially vulnerable to developing mental health problems and around 70 per cent of adults with psychiatric illness are thought to have become unwell during their early teenage years, said the researchers.
Up to one in three young people are thought to encounter psychotic experiences at some point. These individuals are at an increased risk of schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness as adults.
They are also more likely to take their own lives than other members of the population.
Previous research by the same team found higher rates of psychotic symptoms among children living in cities.
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition, which causes a range of psychological symptoms, which can include hallucinations, delusions, muddled thoughts and not being able to distinguish one’s own thoughts and ideas from reality.
Co-author Jo Newbury, also from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Our study suggests that the effects of city life on psychotic experiences are not limited to childhood but continue into late adolescence, which is one of the peak ages at which clinical psychotic disorders are typically diagnosed.”
Additional reporting from Press Association
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