Household crowding in Greenland: how does it affect mental health?


The health status of indigenous people is invariably lower than that of the overall population, something that led the World Health Organisation is mandated to devote special attention to the issue of their health. Poor housing conditions (including overcrowding) is a key determinant of the increase in mental health problems among such populations.

In  a study we recently published, Mylène Riva, Christina Viskum Lytken Larsen and Peter Bjerregaard aimed to investigate whether household crowding is associated with poorer psychosocial health among Greenlanders, and the mediating role of social support.

In 1951. 68% of the population of Greenland was living in villages with less than 500 people. By 2010, this percentage was reduced to just 15%. Household crowding is a concern in Greenland. Houses are often small and accommodate large households; often they are designed by non indigenous population, even if 90% of the population is ethnic Greenlanders (Inuit). As a result, they have been criticised for not being aligned with Inuit culture.

This study used data from the Inuit health in transition Greenland survey, between 2005 and 2010 (n=3,066). Household crowding was defined as number of persons per room and ranged from 0.1 to 4.7 (median 0.8). The main findings of this study are summarised below:

  • There were significant psychosocial health inequalities associated with household crowding among Greenlanders
  • There was poor mental well-being among people living in more crowded households, independent of individual characteristics.
  • Perhaps surprisingly at first glance, higher crowding was associated with a smaller risk of binge drinking. This, however, becomes more probable when taking into account that binge drinking was more likely in households with cohabiting adults without children.
  • There was bigger household crowding in villages than towns; the harmful effects of crowding, however, did not vary by whether people were living in villages or towns.
  • The effect of crowding was more important for women’s health: women were more likely to report feeling depressed.
  • The role of social support was found to be very important: crowding was significantly associated with lower social support (especially in women), whereas social support was significantly associated with better mental well-being.

The authors conclude that targeting housing conditions and fostering social support as part of population health interventions might contribute to improving psychosocial health and well-being in Greenland.

What do you think? Is there a problem of household crowding in your country? What can be done about it?


*picture credit

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