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Mental health, migration and the megacity: Urban transformation in China

Research has identified key phenomena that ties mental illness and the social lives of cities together: among the factors most consistently identified are migration, density and stress; migrants into cities bear a disproportionately large share of the burden of urban mental illness; dense living conditions exacerbate the problem; and the general stress and precarity of urban living create the psycho-social basis for the development of clinical problems.

This project is under the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) umbrella programme, Urban Transformations (coordinated by Oxford University) and a sub project within our Urban Brain lab


The series of interdisciplinary and comparative questions which were addressed are:

  1. How does a complex intertwining of biological, psychological and sociological factors result in the relationship between urbanicity and mental illness?
  2. What are the consequences of the specific sociology of Shanghai for the mental health of its citizens?

Answering these questions will allow us to untangle and counter the relations between migration, poverty and inter-generational cycles of poor mental health.


The project was composed of four work packages:

  1. Understanding migrants mental health in contemporary Shanghai through systematic review and synthesis of literature
  2. Developing nuanced understanding of Shanghai migrants’ daily life experience and how it relates to mental health issues through ethnographic field work
  3. Constructing a sociological deep surveying instrument for mapping migrant mental health in Shanghai by combining knowledge from the first two work packages
  4. Using biological and mobile technologies to measure stress (cortisol awakening response and daily profile), and the daily urban materialities surrounding migrants.

Our Partners

Fudan University

Fudan University

Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Cardiff University

Cardiff University

University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Amount: £650,000

Period: January 2016 - December 2018