Here’s why living in the country may actually hurt your mental health

HOUSTON — The grass (or pavement) is always greener. Plenty of people who live in cities dream of one day packing their bags and retiring to a much more natural setting filled with wide open spaces, but many residing in more rural regions often wonder about life in a big city. While both settings have their ups and downs, researchers from the University of Houston are encouraging more people to pack up and head toward more urban areas.

Their study finds that Americans who live in rural areas tend to be more anxious and depressed, less open-minded, and more neurotic. Additionally, people living “in the country” displayed lower levels of life satisfaction and less purpose, or meaning in life, than those living in urban areas.

Importantly, the project also highlights disparities in access to mental health services as a potential major factor driving these psychological differences.

Mental health resources are disappearing in the countryside

Since 2010, there has been a surge in rural hospital closures, contributing to a reduction in the health care provider workforce – including, of course, mental health professionals. Close to 85 percent of all rural counties are dealing with a mental health professional shortage, despite rural residents actually requesting more psychological services.

“It will be critical to improve access to psychological services in remote areas and to identify how characteristics and values of rural communities can be leveraged to promote positive psychological health,” says Olivia Atherton, assistant professor of psychology, in a university release.

Family in the countryside
Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

To conduct this research, Prof. Atherton analyzed data collected by two large longitudinal studies of U.S. Americans: Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). She focused heavily on whether there were any rural-urban differences in levels and changes among both the “Big Five” personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism) and well-being (psychological well-being, life satisfaction) across all of adulthood.

This work also provides important new insights regarding the impact of living environment, indicating that where people live can indeed impact personality and well-being in adulthood, all while simultaneously raising more questions that future work should explore.

“Given the far-reaching consequences of rural health disparities for individuals, families and communities, there is a pressing need to identify the psychological, social and structural mechanisms responsible for disparities and the ways in which to intervene upon those mechanisms to improve the health of rural Americans,” Prof. Atherton concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of Personality.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. Really? Grew up my whole life in Ft Lauderdale Fl-Broward County. Most people I knew there have packed up and gotten out. You will need medical services because the traffic and crime will drive your blood pressure sky high. I have been physically attacked, had my purse stolen while I was loading items in my vehicle and had my home nearly broken into on two occasions-my husband held one burglar at gun point till police arrived. Found out the perp had an outstanding warrant for burglary. By the way I lived in a nice neighborhood. Also it is so pleasant when a homeless person bangs on your car window for money especially if you drive a nice car. I could go on and on and I am not a timid woman by any means. We have moved to a much quieter part of Florida and I enjoy peace and quiet. It took some getting used to but I’m glad I’m out of the urban rat race. Sorry to say the state of Florida is building up-hurricanes and alligators don’t keep people from the Sunshine State. There is no Utopia🤪 .

  2. What complete and utter nonsense. I lived in a major urban city in the Northeast US for the first 50 years of my life, then I moved to Cottontown, Tennessee which is a farming and ranching
    community about 45 minutes Northeast of Nashville, with a population of about 400 people.
    My ONLY regret is that I didn’t move here sooner…

    1. I know where that is, used to live near there for about a year. I’m now about an hour east of Nashville. 100% agreed. TN is a beautiful state-outside of the cities and suburbs. Beautiful country.

    2. My story is similar to yours and I agree, I only wish I would have moved out of the city sooner.

  3. This was the biggest pile of hog-wash I’ve ever heard.

    Farming and county-life is where AMERICA was started. Consider us ‘flyover country’ or whatever the hell you call it, but we love our basic life filled with hard work and team work – BIG FAMILIES and LOVING NEIGHBORS.



  4. This sounds like a lead to make people accept agenda 2030/2045 or sustainable living setups/15 minute “smart” cities. Having grown up in a very large big city, suburbs, semi-rural, and now fully rural, I’ll take the fully rural any day.
    Yeah I have to drive 30 mins if I want to go to a “real” big box store. 40 mins to get to work. But sitting and watching 13+ deer at a time in my front yard chilling and letting their fawns romp, foxes, raccoons, turtles, possums, turkeys, squirrels, coyotes, etc. Being able to look up at the night sky and see all the stars. Listening to the crickets and birds rather than gunshots or city traffic. I’ll take it.
    The only “anxiety” (word used loosely because I don’t have anxiety, panic, depression) I face is watching all the big city/Northern/Cali folks starting to move in to my state, and watching my predicted “I have about 10 years” before that happens coming true (and I was right on cue with that prediction). And I’m going to have to relocate to somewhere else more rural.
    But, to each their own. Some like living in bigger cities, being around people. Like having everything within 5 mins of their home.

  5. Two points about this “scientific” study. One, this field of research is drowning from its problems with replication – the ‘replication crisis’. These kinds of “studies” are rarely replicated, and even when someone tries to replicate these kinds of findings, they usually fail to do so. Second, this study may be conflating cause and effect.

  6. If you have a bad marriage in the city, you can escape to some extent with friends and a larger social circle. But out in the country, if the marriage is not working, you are stuck with that person to a greater degree. This study has some validity, but the title is misleading; it is more about social isolation correlating with a lower quality of life; being “out in the country” per se is not the issue.

  7. As a woman who grew up in the rural area, and remains in the country I call absolute BS on this article.

    2 of my sisters live in the city and they are BOTH paranoid and neurotic, probably due to crime.

    People in the rural areas tend to be well balanced kind and compassionate .

    Also I will point out the Japanese concept of Forrest Bathing, for mental wellness.

    Not sure what kind of questions they asked, but seems they had a conclusion and went looking for evidence to back it.

    1. This is exactly what I thought. I think it’s just the opposite of what this “study” shows! The nutcakes are all the city folk!

    2. No doubt there are neurotic city dwellers, and healthy country folk, and vice versa. But empirical evidence is more solid than anecdotal evidence when assessing the overall situation.

  8. Science babble….. Closely read, the author is comparing rural mental health patients to urban mental health patients. He is NOT comparing rural populations with urban populations….. “The problems of ((the rural mental health patient))) (from a pool of 6% of Americas population) seem a more anxious and depressed, less open-minded, more neurotic, lower levels of life satisfaction and less purpose, or meaning in life, than those ((mental health patients)) living in urban areas (a pool of 94% of Americas population)……. Not sure where the author gains the authority to proclaim “moving to the country will make you mentally ill” when an urban environment is probably more detrimental to ones health. (Especially when you add the urban mental health tags of neurotic, compulsive, stressed, ambitious, devious, shrewd, obsessive, or money hungry) …….The only pressing need here is that of the author to wrangle money from the government to “identify” and “intervene” in those “far-reaching consequences” of his own job security …… Mentally healthy urban dwellers would do just fine with the transition to country living and would in all probability have a much higher quality of life.

  9. I live and prefer rural life. Most of my friends are rural. They are much happier than suburban friends and far more happier than city dwellers. Where was this survey taken? The Russian Siberia?

  10. Fake Opinion News.
    I moved to the country, I love it.
    Can’t wait to retire from the rat race in 11 months.
    Cities are dangerous, especially cities that promote violence like Houston

  11. Not even a hillbilly hater like this “psychology” professor could glean such rando “proof” from a midlife study. It is obvious she has never been outside the city, or at least interacted with the hillbillies she feels she is superior too. Shame on your for repeating such vile assertions.

  12. I think this is just a ploy to get more and more people into the cities for the eventual socialist takeover!

    1. Bingo! I am greatly depressed living in a city ghetto. I’ve seen my street go from quiet and friendly, to disruptively loud and unsafe, within the last 7 years. I hope to get out and go rural. Then I won’t be depressed every f’ng day I wake up.

  13. this article is total bullshit! But do not move out to a rural area if you are a needy person and think that you’re gonna be able to go to tractor supply every day and get what you need to get by out here

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