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Tight-knit neighbourhood does good for mental health of teens

05 Jul 2020

Living in a neighbourhood with greater social cohesion may buffer the impact of stressful life events (SLEs) on the mental health of teens, a study reports.

The study followed 5,183 adolescents (48.7 percent girls) aged 12–13 years until their 14th or 15th birthday. A total of 1,320 teens (21.3 percent) had at least one SLE in the past 2 years, as reported by their primary caregivers. The caregivers also completed a five-statement questionnaire (‘people around here are willing to help their neighbours’ and ‘you can count on adults in this neighbourhood to watch out that children are safe and don't get in trouble’, among others) assessing social cohesion within their neighbourhood.

Teens who had experienced SLEs in the past 2 years tended to be white, have a depressed primary caregiver, have a family income below the corresponding low-income cut-off, and were less likely to be living with two biological parents. Mental health data for hyperactivity and suicidality outcomes were available for 3,629 and 3,776 teens, respectively.

Multivariable logistic regression showed a significant interaction between SLEs and neighbourhood cohesion for several adolescent mental health outcomes. Among teens living in low cohesion neighbourhoods, SLEs were associated with a higher likelihood of depression/anxiety (odds ratio [OR], 3.11), suicidal ideation (OR, 5.25), aggression/conduct disorder (OR, 4.27), and property offence (OR, 4.21).

In contrast, living in a highly cohesive neighbourhood mitigated the effect of SLEs on the mental health outcomes (OR for depression/anxiety, 0.98; OR for suicidal ideation, 1.30; OR for aggression/conduct disorder, 1.09; OR for property offence, 1.21).

In line with the findings, the researchers called for selected intervention strategies to promote social integration among the youth who have recently experienced SLEs. They explained that living in socially cohesive neighbourhoods could help the teens develop and maintain peer relationships, which are known to be of central importance to mental health and well-being.

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