What are the psychological effects of overpopulation?
World Population Day is celebrated every year on 11 July. In this year (2022) theme is “A World of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all-Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all”
The world’s population has already surpassed 8 billion people and continues to increase at an alarming rate.
With this many people on the planet, it seems inevitable that we will soon reach overpopulation.
Overpopulation is defined as the number of people in one area exceeding the amount of resources available to support them.
When there are more people than resources, overpopulation can have numerous psychological effects on both individuals and communities, including low morale, hostility, and even antisocial behavior.
Overpopulation and Stress
Stress can be caused by overcrowding, resulting in a rise in mental illness and depression.
High levels of stress can lead to poor mental health which may cause individuals to self-harm or attempt suicide as a way out.
Although some cultures that were once agricultural have become more industrialized, individuals from these societies often still follow strict norms and traditions that involve risk-taking and harm towards oneself.
Examples include genital mutilation, female genital cutting (FGC), foot binding in China, sewing thorns into one’s flesh for weight loss purposes, or extreme dieting which results in anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
This cultural trend allows for symptoms such as anxiety or depression to be relieved through physical action instead of verbalizing emotions and feelings.
The concept of saving face is important in many Asian cultures where failure is not acceptable.
The idea behind saving face is that people do not want others to know when they have failed because it will bring shame upon them and their family members.
For example, if someone commits suicide after failing at something it would bring shame upon their family members so they would rather die than admit defeat.
In order to avoid losing face or being shamed, many people will commit suicide without warning anyone first so no one knows what happened until it is too late.
There is nothing inherently bad about having a small population size.
In fact, living in an area with fewer people can provide many benefits, however, sometimes large populations grow at such an enormous rate that they begin to negatively affect our social life.
Loneliness is just one possible side effect of overpopulation.
When our world begins to shrink and we have less space between ourselves and others, social isolation becomes more likely.
People want to live alone because it allows them to feel free and independent, when there is too much density within a population, we lose sight of these core values.
Social isolation can make us unhappy; feeling lonely for extended periods of time can even lead to depression or psychosis in extreme cases.
Loss of Natural Habitats
As population increases, animals find less and less room to roam.
With no more spaces to hide in, they quickly become easy prey for humans.
As a result, they are forced to live closer and closer together in ever-shrinking natural habitats.
Without any space left to truly be themselves, they experience psychological trauma as they adapt their behaviors like territorial instincts or mating rituals to try and fit into these new crowded environments.
Living next door (and on top) of your friends can be hard enough, imagine being forced to do it with hundreds or thousands of others.
Isolation is a basic human need, if we don’t have a sense of who we are in relation to others, then we risk suffering from social anxiety or even depression.
When populations exceed a certain density, they can become overcrowded.
This in turn leads to a breakdown in social structure and an increase in psychological problems among individuals.
Overcrowding is often found in countries where cities have rapidly expanded into rural areas or those that have recently undergone rapid industrialization and large influxes of people, such as China and India.
In some cases, overcrowding has forced people to find refuge elsewhere.
For example, at least three-quarters of North Korea’s population lives on less than 2% of its land area due to a lack of arable land due to deforestation.
These issues have caused many psychologists to study overcrowding as it relates to its impact on human psychology.
Lack of Housing and Resources
If there is only so much housing and food, then how can everyone have enough to be comfortable.
When you think about things like these, it brings up other questions like Where do I sleep, when I don’t have a home? Who cares for me if my parents pass away and all my other family is in poverty as well?
Where do I get clean water if there is not enough water on Earth to support life anymore because it is all being used by others.
Will someone come along and steal what little food I have, leaving me hungry with no where to go.
Can you imagine living under those conditions every day? There will be people who will feel they are more important than others due to their amount of property or money.
A large group of people can be a very scary thing. With so many people in such a small space, our minds tend to go wild.
Things that we normally wouldn’t think twice about become distorted, twisted nightmares in our heads, how will we all fit in here?, what happens if something goes wrong?, and can you please stop breathing?.
We start thinking irrationally, imagining every single worst-case scenario that could happen and what-if ourselves into an anxiety attack.
It is difficult to predict whether or not there will be negative psychological effects caused by overpopulation but one thing is for sure, no one ever wants to experience them first hand.
And as long as humans keep reproducing like rabbits, then those effects are bound to become more prevalent.