'Unmotivated and uninspired': The downside of quitting city life for the suburbs

Many of us dream of our very own escape to the country; getting out of the rat race and enjoying a slower pace of life.

However, leaving the city doesn’t always make for an idyllic way of life – and for some people, it can even spark a downturn in their mental health.

Research from Yale and Aarhus Universities found that those living in suburbs are at an estimated 10% to 15% higher risk of depression than city dwellers.

It may come as a surprise given how stressful city living can be (and the numerous, widely-publicised health benefits of being in nature) but the data shows reduced rates of mental illness in urban high-rises over sprawling suburbs.

The study, posted in the journal Science Advances, links this to an increased number of social opportunities in heavily populated neighbourhoods, which provide ‘dynamic socioeconomic interactions’ that make people happier.

Researcher Dr Karen Chen, of Yale University, US, said: ‘People tend to spend more time in their cars driving off to things and not necessarily at local shops, restaurants and cafes, as they do in cities.’ 

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For Megan Lomax, 54, this was the case. In 2009, when her children were aged four and five, her family upped sticks from Hackney to Bruton in Somerset.

One of the main things she noticed was how quiet public spaces were, as more spacious homes meant people had less need to be outdoors.

‘We’d gone from a very hustly-bustly life in London, where you go to the playground and there are hundreds of people, to a village when no one really came out,’ she told Metro.co.uk.

Megan, who runs Rubbastuff alongside her husband, Guy, also found it hard to adjust to the amount of driving required to get around in Somerset, and was constantly hosting family and friends who came to visit, making it difficult to step out of her comfort zone and meet new people.

In the year after the move, they experienced multiple bereavements, while work commitments meant Megan had to rent a room in London and hire a nanny to look after the children while commuting, something she said made her ‘really quite miserable’.

While the family made friends over time, it wasn’t easy, with Megan putting herself out there via everything from climbing club to French classes.

‘In Hackney, you walk down the road and you see people all the time – you don’t have to talk to them, but it’s nice because you can if you want to,’ she said.

‘In the village, it was just me. I was a little bit shocked.’

By the time things turned around for Megan in 2012 and she began to settle in, the wheels were already in motion for a move back to London. Despite fond memories of Bruton, it’s a decision she doesn’t regret.

The social aspect hasn’t been an issue for Ronia Fraser, 41, who moved from London to the East Sussex seaside town of St Leonards-on-Sea four years ago.

Having grown up in the Bavarian countryside, Ronia dreamed of living somewhere bustling and cosmopolitan. Once she was old enough, she left Germany and spent time in both London and LA, but decided to relocate shortly before the pandemic.

Award-winning Trauma Recovery Coach Ronia, who is single, was attracted by the prospect of cheaper rent compared to her home in Primrose Hill, and initially loved the area.

‘It’s a friendly and artsy community here, so I didn’t struggle to make friends,’ she told Metro.co.uk.

‘But as a worldly, entrepreneurial person, I started to miss the buzz of being in the city.

‘I was used to meeting collaborators for coffee and discussing big ideas, whereas now if I had a brainwave it felt like the only one I could tell was my cat.’

Ironically, Ronia says she sees her friends more often now than she did in London, thanks to the walkability of the area. She also doesn’t miss the noise of the capital, though now her daily background track is the sound of seagulls squawking.

Yet despite the benefits, living by the coast made her feel ‘unmotivated, uninspired and disconnected’ in terms of work.

‘It was great during Covid and I love it as a seaside retreat,’ Ronia added. ‘But after four years I’m now very much drawn back into the city, because I really miss the vibe and energy of making things happen.’

That’s one of the things Megan appreciates most about being back in the hubbub of London.

‘You’ve got everything you need here,’ she said. ‘From the people who work from home to the parents in the schools, there’s definitely a really strong community feel.’

Add to that, her children (now 17 and 19) have thrived since.

Megan said: ‘It’s been amazing because they’re independent; they can get on their bikes, they can get part time jobs really easily, they go off to the cinema, the theatre, the climbing wall and reservoir – all of that is nearby.

Meanwhile, Megan has grown the business and connected with all sorts of people through getting a dog, taking it on walks and taking full advantage of the city’s vibrant populace.

She, like Ronia, doesn’t wish to put down suburban and rural communities, merely to highlight that it’s a matter of preference where makes you happy.

‘It’s just a different way of doing things I think is the main thing,’ added Megan.

‘It suits us better to be where there’s there’s a diverse mix of people and a busy lifestyle where we can work close to home.’

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