Rapid Urbanization - Its Impact on Mental Health: A South Asian Perspective

Article excerpt

Byline: Jitendra. Trivedi, Himanshu. Sareen, Mohan. Dhyani

Rapid increase in urban population as a proportion of total population is resulting in rapid urbanization of the world. By the end of 2008, a majority of the world's population will be living in the cities. This paradigm shift in the dynamics of human population is attracting attention of demographers, sociologists, scientists, and politicians alike. Urbanization brings with it a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Though it is driving the economies of most of the nations of the world, a serious concern regarding the impact of urbanization on mental health is warranted. The impact of urbanization on mental health in South-Asian countries needs to be examined. These countries by virtue of their developing economies and a significant proportion of population still living below poverty line are particularly vulnerable and tend to have a higher burden of diseases with an already compromised primary health care delivery system. The range of disorders and deviancies associated with urbanization is enormous and includes psychoses, depression, sociopathy, substance abuse, alcoholism, crime, delinquency, vandalism, family disintegration, and alienation. Thus, it is a heterogenous mix of problems and categorizing them to one particular subtype seems daunting and undesirable. Urbanization is affecting the entire gamut of population especially the vulnerable sections of society - elderly, children and adolescents, and women. Rapid urbanization has also led to creation of "fringe population" mostly living from hand to mouth which further adds to poverty. Poverty and mental health have a complex and multidimensional relationship. Urban population is heavily influenced by changing cultural dynamics leading to particular psychiatric problems like depression, alcoholism, and delinquency. Judicious use of resources, balanced approach to development, and sound government policies are advocated for appropriate growth of advancing economies of South-Asian region.

Urbanization is the relative increase of the urban population as a proportion of the total population[sup] [1] and it is occurring on a scale never before experienced. The United Nation's Population Fund (UNFPA) released their "State of the World Population 2007" report in June 2007[sup] [2] which mentions the fact that humanity is nearing the date when for the first time more humans will be living in cities than in rural areas. The report mentions this watershed event, which demographers predict will occur sometime in 2008, as the most important trend in human development. The vast majority of these new urban dwellers will live in developing countries (like those in the South-Asian region), and they will be poor. This will present major challenges for the nations least prepared to meet the inevitable strains of urban growth.

Cities offer the lure of better employment, education, health care, and culture; and they contribute disproportionately to national economies.

However, rapid and often unplanned urban growth is often associated with poverty, environmental degradation, and population demands that outstrip service capacity. These conditions place human health at risk. Reliable urban health statistics are largely unavailable throughout the world. Disaggregated intra-urban health data, i.e., for different areas within a city, are even rarer.

Data that are available indicate a range of urban health hazards and associated health risks: substandard housing, crowding, air pollution, insufficient or contaminated drinking water, inadequate sanitation and solid waste disposal services, vector-borne diseases, industrial waste, increased motor vehicle traffic, stress associated with poverty and unemployment, among others. Local and national governments and multilateral organizations are all grappling with the challenges of urbanization.

Urbanization has brought its own set of problems pertaining to mental health and well-being. …