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04-18 Rats increase depression rates in lower-income neighborhoods

Rats increase depression rates in lower-income neighborhoods

Rats! These small, quick, beady-eyed creatures can easily elevate your heartbeat, give you goosebumps and maybe even make you jump and scream for your life. However, if you regularly see rats in your neighborhood or even your house, then chances are stronger that you are dealing with another silent yet dangerous problem: depression.

Baltimore’s low-income neighborhood residents who consider rats to be a major problem in the area they live in are radically more susceptible to depressive symptoms, according to a latest research by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Even though these residents are also battling other imperative concerns such as vacant housing, drugs and high street crime, the study was surprisingly able to establish that the relationship between rats and depression did not conform to these other neighborhood conditions.

The findings were published in the March issue of the Journal of Community Psychology.

“This study provides very strong evidence that rats are an underappreciated stressor that affects how people feel about their lives in low-income neighborhoods,” said study lead Danielle German, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School. “The good news is it’s modifiable. If we can do something to reduce the number of rats in these neighborhoods, we can improve people’s well-being.”

German, in collaboration with Carl A. Latkin, Ph.D., a professor at the Bloomberg School, collected and evaluated data from 448 Baltimore residents employed from indigent neighborhoods as a segment of a study focused on the reduction of risky drug and sex behaviors through the acknowledgment of depressive symptoms.

The study revealed:

  • About 50 percent admitted spotting rats at least every week on their neighborhood, while around 35 percent saw them almost daily
  • 13 percent said they saw rats inside their homes, and 5 percent reported daily or almost daily sightings in their homes
  • More than half believed rats to be a significant indicator of a bad neighborhood
  • Nearly 32 percent considered rats to be an immense problem
  • Those particularly troubled by rats were 72 percent more likely to experience heightened depressive symptoms than those who from relatively rat-free areas

German claims the findings of this study to potentially alter the conversation about the role of rats to be more than just a nuisance when it comes to public health.

Baltimore has already taken some steps to counter the problem of rats in the face of these recent findings. Foremost amongst these initiatives is a recent $10 million plan to supply sturdy trash cans with lids to every resident.

In Belair-Edison, where the project was initiated almost a year ago, the results have been effectively swift as calls about rats dropped by 25 percent.  These cans were met with much appreciation because the lids were tight, not allowing the rats to look for food or shelter.

The city is now also proactively pursuing the treatment of rat habitats. According to the Department of Public Works, the city’s rat budget for fiscal 2016 was inflated to around $1.1 million from $619,000 in 2015 whereas the number of workers also doubled.

Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider, providing evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses. We aim to see our patients not just succeed in treatment but also thrive in their daily life. Call our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author

Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at     

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