Urbanization and mental health: A perspective from Riyadh City, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2023 Aug;69(5):1121-1133. doi: 10.1177/00207640231152202. Epub 2023 Feb 24.


Background: While global studies demonstrated that features of urban living are associated with the risk of developing mental disorders, there remains a significant knowledge gap surrounding this topic in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Aims: This study aims to assess the prevalence, severity, correlates, and treatment of mental disorders in Riyadh City by examining certain aspects of urban living such as exposure to traumatic events, early exposure to urbanization, and seeking treatment.

Methods: The Saudi National Mental Health Survey is a community epidemiological survey in a nationally representative sample of citizens aged 15 to 65 in KSA. The World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI 3·0) was used to estimate the 12-month prevalence of common mental disorders.

Results: The prevalence of any mental disorder in Riyadh City was 29.2%. The most common disorders were anxiety disorders and mood disorders. Female, young, and previously married respondents were at higher risk for developing mental disorders. Exposure to traumatic events was associated with all types of mental disorders. Only 2.9% of those with any mental disorder sought mental health treatments.

Conclusions: We found a high prevalence of mental disorders in Riyadh City that could be attributed to certain features of urban living. These results may point to potential interventions in urban areas that can mitigate the adverse consequences of urban living and promote the salutogenic aspects of cities.

Keywords: Mental health; Riyadh City; Saudi Arabia; environmental epidemiology; urban mental health; urbanization.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cities
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health*
  • Prevalence
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Urbanization