A trusted neighborhood helps teenage mental health

Photo: laura.ouimette. Creative Commons.

A US study of 15-year-olds has concluded that more attention should be given to building cooperation within neighorhoods to help protect teenagers’ mental health. The study recommends things like community policing that encourages community collaboration, trust and relationship building, as well as investment in community organisations.

Researchers, led by Louis Donnelly at Princeton University, found that 15-year-old boys and girls were more likely to report better mental health if they lived in neighborhoods where residents get along and share common values, and where people can be counted on to take action if there is a local problem.

The study used data collected in 1998-2000 as part of the larger Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study in large US cities. The researchers looked at data from 2,264 15-year-olds. The teenagers reported their own feelings of depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, the state of the neighborhood was assessed by parents when children were between the ages of 3 and 9.

Most of the neighborhoods targeted in this study were disadvantaged. But after accounting for levels of social cohesion and social action, teenagers living in the poorer of these neighborhoods were no more likely to feel depressed or anxious than those in less disadvantaged areas. (Within a neighborhood, however, young people from poorer families were more likely to report depression and anxiety.)

The magnitude of the effect that the level of trust in a community has on adolescent depression and anxiety is similar to that of community programs that specifically set out to prevent depression in at-risk populations.

Donnelly L, McLanahan S, Brooks-Gunn J, Garfinkel I, Wagner BG, Jacobsen WC, Gold S & Gaydosh L (2016), Cohesive neighborhoods where social expectations are shared may have positive impact on adolescent mental health, Health Affairs, 35.11