Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Mental Health: How Does Melbourne Really Rate?

Edited by Jill Wright,

mental health: how does melbourne really rate?

There we are again, awarded the status of the world's most liveable city for the sixth year in a row. But as The Age's Karl Quinn points out, The Economist's Intelligence Unit makes its award from the perspective of business executives who might be relocated across the world.

Quinn suggests that however good the coffee might be, for many Melbourne residents - particularly those who live on the fringe - factors like housing affordability, the lack of infrastructure and services, and the daily stress of traffic jams and crowded public transport seriously undermine the joy of existence.

Here at Psychology Melbourne, where every day we help people cope with the less liveable aspects of this city, we think that our policy-makers should be looking more closely at the psychological health of Melbourne residents, rather than patting themselves on the back.

There's a very timely article in The Guardian this week by social affairs writer Mary O'Hara that couldn't be more germane.

She writes: "The frenetic, isolating nature of city life can be a day-to-day struggle for millions of people. An environmental cocktail of densely packed streets and homes, cramped and lengthy commutes and noise pollution as well as significant pockets of poverty and deprivation can take their toll. As a result, mental ill health and urban life are inextricably linked."

The article mentions the work of Layla McCay, founder and director of the Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, which aims to inspire policy-makers and planners to design mental health into urban projects, with the use of "green places", "active places" and "pro-social places" and "safe places". 

McCay points out that according to statistics, people who live in cities have a 40% increased risk of depression, a 20% increased risk of anxiety and double the risk of schizophrenia.

It would be great if our planners downloaded the centre's policy brief for design aimed at fostering "individual well-being and thriving, resilient society".

As one of the centre's blog posts points out, unpleasant design has a significant impact on the mental health of city dwellers.

It's an interview with Dr Selena Savic, one of the editors of a digital publication called just that - Unpleasant Design. It touches, for instance, on "hostile design" in some cities. Savic raises some fascinating questions. Here in Melbourne, for instance, many of us love our cobblestoned lanes, but as she points out, they are difficult for women in high-heels to navigate and often cause sprained ankles.

Savic happens to live in Lausanne, Switzerland, which she says is a "very pleasant city ... which treats people with dignity".

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.