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Depression in the US: Sad Communities Make Miserable People

Update Date: Dec 03, 2014 01:41 PM EST

An unhappy environment makes unhappy people, according to a new study.

Researchers found that residents of the country's unhappiest communities are so depressed it harms their productivity.

"This is a real concern not just in the United States, but across the world," lead researcher Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural economics and regional economics, Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, said in a news release. "Poor mental health can result in considerable economic costs, including losses of billions of dollars to lower productivity and this doesn't even include the staggering personal costs of negative mental health and depression."

The study revealed that people living in communities with the poorest mental health on average reported spending 8.3 days a month in a bad mood.  In contrast, those living in communities with high mental health reported spending only a little less than half a day each month feeling depressed.

The latest study also revealed that suburban residents seem to be the happiest, compared to those who live in rural and urban areas.

Goetz and his team found that people who lived in suburbs tended to report experiencing the fewest poor mental health days. People living in tighter-knit communities also reported experiencing fewer poor mental health days.

"People who live in the suburbs are closer to jobs and all of the amenities that a big city can provide, but they're also far enough away from the stress of the inner city," said Goetz. "It may be that you don't want to be too close to people, but you don't want to be too far away either."

"The more supported you are by the community, the happier you are, and the better you are able to cope with troubles," added Goetz.

"As economists we talk a lot about financial costs, but often don't consider the high personal costs that are incurred in some of these communities, including those associated with drug abuse and crime," said Goetz. "It's gut wrenching to hear stories of how substance abuse has hurt people and destroyed families and we're eager to work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services to research the problem and find ways to help these communities."

"When you live in poverty you might not care about how well-off your neighbors are, you just want to get out of poverty," he concluded. "The research doesn't suggest that income equality doesn't matter, but it does indicate that the sting of actual poverty is far worse."

The findings are published in the journal Social Indicators Research.

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