HLTHAGE 2G03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Natural Environment, Social Capital, Social Stigma

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Lecture 7: Place, Space, and Mental Health
Halpern’s Housing Estate Study (1995)
Social housing built by the British government for the poor
Often huge - sometimes tens of thousands of people living there
At first, high suspiciousness, isolation, depression and anxiety - when people in the
estate were surveyed
As a social housing unit the government was responsible for upkeep
In pretty dire conditions when the research began
So Halpern did things like - changing the lighting, cleaning up the alleys, putting up
fencing between small yards
Depression and anxiety both dropped - people felt more trusting etc
Tied very specifically to space
Mental Health, Mental Illness
Recall debate between categorical (disorder) model vs. dimensional (distress) model
If we think of mental health as a continuum of human experience and emotion - we all
experience emotions just to greater or lesser degrees
Problematic study designs: testing whether poverty causes depression (e.x.)
describes all individuals as “mentally healthy” so long as they don’t meet criteria
for depression - but what about other mental health issues
May not be depressed - might not check all those boxes - but you can’t jump to
the conclusion that they’re mentally happy and healthy
Wellbeing
Feeling good, positive emotions
Happiness, security, sense of control over destiny
Functioning well (inherently social)
Connecting to others, meeting needs
Functioning well is not solely a measure of the individual - things like doing your
job well, getting along with those in your life etc.
Social support a protective factor in mental health
When a person’s community or social network offers instrumental or expressive
support
Space, Place, and Mental Health
Broader debates about whether mental health (and illness is derived from social
environment or personal factors
Both physical environment and theorized place: meaning that we ascribe to an area
May not have clear boundaries (e.g. neighbourhood
Space/place particularly important when thinking beyond strict notion of mental health as
an individual concern
Researchers: we underestimate extent to which mental health is affected by
surroundings
Urban Environment
19th and 20th c. urbanization led to drastic changes in society
Increased density
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Economic stratification
When you start to encounter so many people life seems to speed up
Researchers have become very interested in how having many people affects
mental health
As people move to cities there seems to be growing gaps in economic
stratification
Economic gap is getting larger
Development of “social problems” (homelessness, drug use, violence)
“Concrete jungles”
Mid-late 20th c. shift towards suburbanization as a response
These shifts have reverberated through mental health, subject to intense debate
Sprung up partially in response to idea that urban environment is inherently
damaging or negative
Economic Stratification
Class (education, income, culture) inversely related to almost every type of major mental
disorder. Exceptions?
People in lower classes tend to have higher rates of mental health problems
Eating disorders, however, are disproportionately found in upper and middle class
people
Class impacts mental health in both acute (more likely to encounter violence etc.) and
chronic (e.g. stress, fear) fashion
If you don’t have the money, time, or freedom to do things to protect your mental
health you can’t do this as well
Individuals w/ schizophrenia far more likely to be found in city centres than in rural areas
Specifically in neighbourhoods that were poorer
Rates of depression higher in neighbourhoods of social and material
disadvantage
Beyond official disorders, several mental health effects
Social Causation - Neighbourhoods
How a person’s place and space can shape outcome
One idea is that urban environment is the source of poor mental health
Individuals in poorer neighbourhoods more likely to perceive disorder or chaos
(crime, litter, youth delinquency, public drinking, graffiti)
If you theorize it’s the space itself
Feelings of powerlessness and unpredictability reported by those living in
such neighbourhoods
Higher rates of substance abuse in areas of disorder (seen as “safe”
areas for use)
Disorder seen as area where it’s safe to engage in bad behaviour
Implying permission to do these things that can be problematic for other
people
Communicates to those living there that they are not important and not
worthy of help
Environment contribute to feeling of worthlessness
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