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. Having lived in both rural and urban settings, my personal experience is the total opposite and after reading the methodology used I call complete BS. People in rural locales move at a slower pace, are more relaxed and friendly and far more helpful. I am stunned that any academic would read this study and not rip it to shreds.

  2. City life gives the advantage of seeing more people and walking more to shop. It is more alive. Country life gives clean air; visible stars and moons; and lots of green which is healthy. So what’s the answer. There is none. Both afford very positive attributes.

  3. This is nothing but the old Hollywood “Small towns are the root of all evil.” repackaged. Best thing is for the authors of this study to firmly believe its conclusion and stay out of the countryside. Leave the rest of us to a life “trapped” in clean air and low crime rates and space to actually live. Clueless!!

  4. We live in the semi rural town of Paradise, California. It’s quite mellow and the sense of community is very strong, especially after the fire that caused so much damage in 2018. Everyone seems well adjusted and sane. I go down to the Bay Area on business every couple weeks and it’s obvious that a many of the people there are super anxious and whacked out. I want to stop and shake them and yell ” Snap out of it!” Poor things….

  5. Basically, the study measured levels of certain personality traits that define the “ideal”: Openness (defined as being open to all ideas), Conscientiousness (a trait that is primarily found in those who pursue the sciences, finance, or other higher education fields), Extraversion (those who are strongly drawn to highly social environments and activities)… etc.

    Essentially, they went wrong when they tried to define the ideal personality as “liberal”.

  6. Calling total BS on this article I’ve lived in the “big city” and I’ve lived in the country where I am now and I’m far happier in the country, more effort to try and marginalize the so called flyover country. IF you ask me I’d say this so called study are from people in cities trying to give their life relevance, sad because you depend on the help and services of others to survive.
    Facts are you wouldn’t last a year in the country without so nanny state system to hold your hand, so stay in the city, wear a mask, get the jab and breath your poison air. I’ll stay out here and enjoy this little thing we call freedom.

  7. LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE… Trying to condition people to accept your 15 minute city lies.

    The Purge is no longer coming, it is here. It is time, now, to make a choice. If there are any here reading who know the Lord Jesus Christ- please go unto the people to proclaim His Gospel unto salvation…

    From the book of Romans: 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10:10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 10:11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 10:12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 10:13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

    (if you have not already done so): Turn your eyes to Jesus- repent of your disbelief of what He did on the Cross in dying for your sins. Confess Jesus as your Saviour. Then understand that after you are born again, NOTHING else in this crazy world matters….except telling others of Jesus.

    to know more go to: nowtheendbegins.c om/eternal-life-through-the-blood-of-jesus-christ-is-a-free-gift/

    From the King James Bible; The Gospel according to John: 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 3:17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    I John 5:1Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

    Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  8. This is an example of yellow journalism at its worst. Articles like this are just brainwashing material aimed at making the populace accept UN (WEF) Agendas 21 & 22 (global depopulation and forced moves into tightly controlled cities). I guarantee you that the demonization of rural areas is just beginning and very soon puppets like will be touting the glories of the utopian 15 minute cities.

  9. Sorry, I don’t believe this for a second. You can engineer a study to show whatever results you want, but this one just doesn’t jibe with my personal experience.

  10. 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.

  11. My wife and I bought a farm and moved from a densely populated area twenty-five years ago to this sparely populated rural area. Everything, and I mean everything is better out here. Crime is lower, schools are better, people are friendlier, customer service is better, you can actually find plumbers and electricians and trades people for special projects, fresh vegetables in the summer can’t be beat, and medical and health facilities are better, contrary to media reports. We would NEVER return to urban or suburban life again!

  12. It’s interesting how other studies state leaving an urban environment, even temporarily, is good for mental health. The modern name for it is called ‘forest bathing.’ As a kid, my dad would drive out of town and we would go for long walks in nature – far from the crowds and madness. Growing up in Chicago, I didn’t know there was more than the craziness I was exposed to daily.

    After 50+ years of living in big cities, I finally moved to a semi-rural, exurban area. Over the nearly 20 years since moving here, the city has expanded with crowded developments and their postage stamp sized lots are now beginning to surround my neighborhood.

    I do not believe one word of this study.

    For the first time in my life after moving out of a city, I found peace, tranquility and happiness surrounded by God’s creatures and nature. At night I could see the majesty of the night sky without light pollution and used to wake up hearing the soothing sounds of cattle lowing in the nearby fields with deer sleeping outside my bedroom! The man-made hell holes I used to call home were the exact opposite – crowded, dirty, crime-ridden and polluted in every aspect, including light and noise.

    I’ve experienced living in both environments and am dismayed that the paradise I found is being lost rapidly. I already have a ‘primitive’ location picked out to move to, should it come to that.

  13. This is comical I doubt she ever lived in Houston! As a child from there, I can tell you my life has dramatically improved just by moving into a rural community

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