Residents of Baltimore’s low-income neighborhoods who believe rats are a big problem where they live are significantly more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms such as sadness and anxiety, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
Those same residents with rodent problems on their block are also plagued by other pressing urban issues such as vacant housing, drug sales on the street and the risk of being robbed and beaten up. The study found that the relationship between rats and depression is not explained by these other neighborhood conditions. The findings are published in the March issue of the Journal of Community Psychology.
“Nobody likes living around rats,” says study leader Dr. Danielle German, an assistant professor in the department of health, behavior and society at the Bloomberg School. “This study provides very strong evidence that rats are an underappreciated stressor that affects how people feel about their lives in low-income neighborhoods. 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.”
Every time researchers would talk to residents of low-income neighborhoods about the troubling public health issues they face, Dr. German says, they expected to hear about drugs and HIV and access to healthy food. Time and again, she says, they heard about rats and trash. Many cities conduct a regular rat census or survey residents about urban conditions, but this is one of the first studies to examine the psychological toll of an entrenched rat population.