Research by Adli (2011) has shown that city environments may affect inhabitants brain biology and can increase the risk of mental disorders. All over the world urban living is becoming more generalized, the world is transitioning to small-family or single households and an aging society. Urban living can become stress-inducing if you don’t have enough space of your own or live under unstable economic conditions. Stress can increase the risk of obesity, and can suppress the immune system. Urban living has been shown to increase the risk of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and major depression. Social stress may be the most important factor in this. Disturbances in chronobiological rhythms are also more common in urban areas. A meta-analysis showed that urban dwellers have a 20 per cent higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, and a 40 per cent higher risk of developing mood disorders.
Paykel et al. (2003) conducted a study to investigate the differences between urban and rural areas in the UK. There were higher rates of psychiatric morbidity, alcohol dependence, and drug dependence in urban rather than rural settings, with differences greatest for drug dependence. There were no significant differences in services or medication. Compared with rural participants, urban participants were significantly younger, not currently married, of lower social class, non-White, less well educated, living in flats or non-detached houses. Urban residents were also more likely to have experienced a stressful life event in the last year, to perceive themselves as lacking in support, and to have a small primary support group. This study showed higher rates of psychiatric morbidity, alcohol dependence, and drug dependence in urban than rural areas in Great Britain, with semi-rural areas generally intermediate.
Studies of physical health have shown that urban areas tend to have better health, such as lower infant mortality than rural, and better health care availability. Paykel et al. (2003) reported worse mental health in urban areas than rural, with semi-rural areas intermediate. Compared with rural, urban subjects were younger, members of more deprived social groups, more likely to have experienced a stressful life event, to have small social support groups and low perceived support. Most of the factors differentiating urban from rural areas indicate higher stress and less stable social conditions in urban areas.
Our intention with this project is to bring the positive aspects of rural living to our urban college campus at IADT. This includes fostering a connected, tightknit community where students feel a sense of belonging and social support while on campus. Our vision for this project manifests into a concept of creating a rural ‘village’ on our IADT college campus.
Urban vs Rural Living and Mental Health
Weak Ties and Strong Ties
Strong and weak ties are concepts theorised by sociologist Mark Granovetter (1973), and supported by evolutionary biology and psychological studies on group processes. Granovetter (1973) highlighted the importance of ‘tie strength’ (strong and weak) in social networking. Weak ties are formal and rationalised interactions. These interactions are typical of acquaintances who may encounter each other on a regular basis, for example, a local barista or a peer in college. Sundararajan (2020) notes that networking among strangers is a fundamental aspect of the larger society. Bian et al. (2020) explain how individuals in a community have strong connections with each other and that weak ties act as bridges linking communities together. On the contrary, strong ties are intimate and informal interactions, for example interactions with close friends or family.
According to Sundararajan (2020), further understanding of strong ties and weak ties may contribute to shaping the future of human society. In today’s modern society, individuals encounter less daily interactions with other people due to advances in technology and artificial intelligence. Research into strong ties and weak ties may contribute to maintaining these relations in a rapidly evolving civilisation. Furthermore, Sundararajan (2020) highlights that the construct of strong ties and weak ties can be used as tool for cultural analysis and to investigate the changes within societies that are transitioning due to the new era of globalisation. This is particularly helpful when researching the similarities and differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.
Sandstrom and Dunn (2014) report on studies investigating the role of weak ties and well-being. Results from one study consisting of 242 undergraduate students showed that interacting with more classmates was linked to greater social and emotional wellbeing after class. Another study mentioned in this article with 58 first-year university students reported that students who usually have more daily weak tie interactions than others experience greater feelings of belonging and are happier. Furthermore, students are happier when they interact with more weak ties than usual. In this report, Sandstrom and Dunn (2014) conclude that weak ties are linked to social and emotional well-being, especially for college students but also for the general population.
Our project aims to cultivate weak and strong ties within the college campus through three activities during an event outlined on our ‘Solution’ page. As well as the three activities, the event will provide an opportunity for students to chat and get to know each other in a casual environment. According to Sandstrom and Dunn (2014), weak ties in the college setting may contribute to greater mental health among students, especially those who are in first year. Providing students with an opportunity to create more weak and strong ties on our campus may also contribute to the wider community and society in general (Sundararajan, 2020).
According to Flett et al. (2019) student populations are becoming increasingly diverse, for example, many universities have students from multiple nationalities. This can occur for various reasons such as students who have emigrated or students who are refugees. Due to this diversity, there is a growing need to help students connect with each other, the campus life and the general community. This should be carried out in ways which make the students feel significant and valued.
Flett et al. (2019) continue to emphasise that the feeling of mattering is fundamental to the health and psychological well-being of college students. Students who feel important to others are more resilient and engaged in their social and academic lives. Furthermore, Lambert et al. (2018) highlight the importance of well-being and happiness among college students. However, the authors also consider different cultures understanding of happiness, some view it as a negative emotion. For example, in Asian cultures happiness can be interpreted as a threat to relationships and in Islamic cultures it can be seen to make individuals appear less serious or mature.
Lambert et al. (2018) delivered a positive psychology intervention to university students to increase happiness and reduce fear of happiness. The study was conducted at a university which enrolled students from 39 different nations. The outcome was that the intervention increased well-being, regardless of the individuals culture. This research shows that cultural differences can be overcome and interventions to increase well-being can be successful in universities with a culturally diverse student body.
Our project aims to embrace the diversity of our college campus while celebrating our individuality but also noticing our similarities. This will be achieved through the three activities outlined in the ‘Solution’ page. Another aim of the event is to cultivate weak ties within the college campus. Bian et al. (2020) highlight that weak ties are especially important for promoting inclusion and spreading diverse information.
Isolation During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Recent research suggests that, on average, the quality of social ties decreased after pandemic started. This perception was significantly greater over the first two weeks of the COVID-19 epidemic, then leveled out, indicating acclimatization to the new situation. In terms of the number of social ties, individuals reported having less social interactions at the start of the research than they had before the pandemic. A linear decline in the number of social contacts was reported and showed that the number of social interactions increased toward the baseline level. Quality and quantity of social interaction have decreased since Covid 19 quarantines started (Buecker & Horstmann, 2021).
Our project aims to combat the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on social ties by cultivating a casual, semi-structured, fun environment where students (including ourselves) can reconnect on campus.