Rat Infestation Linked to Depression in Poor Neighborhoods

Young boy standing outside poor neighborhoodResidents of low-income neighborhoods who believe rats are a frequent presence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, according to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in the Journal of Community Psychology.

Previous research shows depression is a common issue among people facing poverty. A 2012 Gallup poll found 30.9% of people living in poverty experienced depression, compared to 15.8% of people who were not impoverished. The survey also found higher rates of other health conditions—including obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure—among impoverished Americans.

Correlation Between Rats and Depression

Researchers surveyed 448 low-income residents of urban regions in Baltimore, Maryland, about the presence of rats. Most of the residents were African-American (87.3%) and male (54.9%).

Thirty-five percent of respondents said rats were not a problem in their neighborhood, with the remainder reporting regular rat exposure. Thirty-five percent of that group said they saw rats at least daily on their block, and 50% reported seeing rats on a daily basis in other areas of the neighborhood. Thirteen percent said they had rats in their homes, and 5% said they saw rats on a daily or near-daily basis in their homes.

Among the 32% of respondents who said rats were a “big problem,” depression symptoms were 72% higher than those who did not consider rats to be a problem. People living in areas with significant rat problems were also less confident in their own ability to control rats, their neighbors’ commitment to managing rat infestations, and the government’s willingness to take action.

Can Presence of Rats Cause Depression?

The study did not directly assess the presence of rats and did not find a causal connection between rats and depression. Instead, the research suggests a perception of rats being present can increase depression. Lead study author Danielle German, PhD, suggests this research points to rats as a common stressor among people living in poverty.

Several issues, including illegal dumping, abandoned properties, and the inability to afford secure trash cans can increase the prevalence of rats in a neighborhood. Baltimore is currently working to provide sturdy trash cans to each resident, but the study’s authors say these measures may be inadequate.


  1. Brown, A. (2012, October 30). With poverty comes depression, more than other illnesses. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/158417/poverty-comes-depression-illness.aspx
  2. German, D., & Latkin, C. A. (2016). Exposure to urban rats as a community stressor among low-income urban residents. Journal of Community Psychology, 44(2), 249-262. doi:10.1002/jcop.21762
  3. Rat problems in poor neighborhoods linked to depressive symptoms. (2016, March 16). Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/rat-problems-in-poor-neighborhoods-linked-to-depressive-symptoms

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Libba


    March 17th, 2016 at 11:19 AM

    Well I for one know that I would be depressed if I had to live somewhere where there were constantly rats scurrying aorund underfoot!

  • Georgia


    March 18th, 2016 at 11:08 AM

    I am not sure about depression but I would never feel good about going to sleep at night. They are known carriers of all sorts of disease and they just speak of an unclean environment. If someone has to live among this you know that they are probably not living in the most sanitary conditions./

  • brandon P

    brandon P

    March 19th, 2016 at 7:29 AM

    Oh yeah if this is what I perceive to be true, then I am getting out of there, and quickly.

  • Parson


    March 21st, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    Obviously the people living in an environment when this is even a concern are living in dire poverty anyway. It could be multiple things which are contributing to their state of mind.

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