‘We have to give young people a voice,’ says UW study on cities and mental health

A handful of University of Washington experts studied how cities affect young people’s mental health. They also looked at how young people’s mental health could be improved while living in the city.

According to UNICEF, over 70% of the world’s children will live in cities by 2050.

“While cities offer a range of services and opportunities, they also have a demonstrated negative impact on the mental health of children, adolescents, and young adults,” wrote a news release from the UW.

According to the release, the experts surveyed young people from 50 countries to see how different cultures shaped city safety.

“One of the most important points in the paper is we have to give young people a voice,” said the chair of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Jürgen Unützer.

He said the paper gives a call to action and sparks conversations.

“Each city must decide its needs, and regional and national governments must help them achieve those needs,” wrote the release. “The authors acknowledged that this will be a complicated conversation because no one-size-fits-all approach exists.”

Unützer also notes that a safe space is vital to planning a city.

“Whether it was rich or poor, they said, ‘We need a space where we can hang out,’” he said. “So anybody who is doing city planning could consider where is the safe space? Where can people go and feel like they don’t have to worry about things here in Seattle or Tacoma? And how would that be different for a city like Lagos, Nigeria?”

Graduate student and then a global mental health research coordinator, Tessa Concepcion, said younger and older participants disagreed about 30% of the time. Younger people were more interested in how to avoid discrimination and create equality.

The full paper was published on February 21. You can read it here.