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People in unhappy places are depressed more than a week a month

Staff writer |
People in the country's unhappiest communities spend about a quarter of the month so far down in the dumps that it can harm their productivity, according to economists.

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Residents in the community with the poorest mental health on average reported they spent 8.3 days a month in a negative mood. People in high mental health areas reported they were in poor mental health only a little less than half of a day each month, according to the researchers.

Suburban residents seem to be the happiest, compared to those who live in rural areas and inner cities. After controlling for certain conditions, such as commute time, people who lived in suburbs tended to report the fewest poor mental health days, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the online version of Social Indicators Research. Places where people felt more connected with the community also reported fewer poor mental health days.

Another important result was that people facing longer commutes experienced significantly more poor mental health days, regardless of whether they lived in a suburb, rural area, or inner city.

Tighter knit communities also were happier, according to the study. People who live in communities with strong ties or high social capital have better general wellbeing and can rely on a network of support to help when stresses do arise.

While the negative effects of income inequality are receiving more attention from economists lately, if community leaders are concerned with improving mental health, they should try to reduce poverty rather than attempt to manage income equality.

To gather information on poor mental health days, the researchers studied census data and information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey that includes information on how many days in a month participants would describe their mental health as poor. Because the recent economic downturn could skew the mental health figures, the researchers used information from 2002 to 2008, a period before the recession.

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