The kinds of neighborhoods children live in could influence their mental health, according to a study by researchers from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.
Children who live in neighborhoods that parents or caretakers describe as non-supportive—where residents do not help each other or watch out for each other’s children—had significantly higher odds of having a diagnosed mental health disorder, the study showed.
“Improving our understanding of how neighborhood-related factors can shape the mental health of children has implications for both prevention and treatment of mental disorder among children, as well as for planning programs at the neighborhood level to potentially reduce the mental health burden,” the researchers said.
The study looked at the data of 65,680 American children ages 6 to 17, obtained from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. The nationwide telephone survey asked parents or guardians in all 50 states about their children’s mental health conditions and adverse childhood experiences, such as witnessing violence, encountering racism or living with someone who abused drugs or alcohol. The survey also asked about access to neighborhood amenities, such as playgrounds, parks or libraries, and detracting elements, such as rundown housing or excess litter. It also addressed neighborhood support, such as whether people in the neighborhood helped each other or could be trusted to watch each other’s children and their perceptions about how safe their neighborhoods and schools are.
The results of the study are published in Psychiatry Journal in the article, “Association between neighborhood conditions and mental disorders among children in the US: Evidence from the National Survey of Children’s Health 2011/12.” The study’s lead author is Sushma Dahal (MPH ’17), who completed the study as part of her thesis and is now a consultant with Nepal Health Research Council in Kathmandu. Co-authors include Dr. Monica Swahn, Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Dr. Matthew Hayat, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, both of Georgia State.
Nearly 9,000 of the children in the study had a diagnosed mental health disorder. Previous studies have shown the most common mental health disorders among children and adolescents include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, behavioral or conduct problems, anxiety, depression, and autism spectrum disorder, the researchers said.
About 18 percent of children living in non-supportive neighborhoods had a mental health disorder compared to 13 percent of children living in supportive neighborhoods, the study found.
The researchers noted that access to neighborhood amenities did not appear to be an important factor.
“This was surprising given that previous research demonstrates an association between few neighborhood amenities and anxiety and depression,” they said.
The study also found that adverse childhood experiences and parental mental health were linked to mental health disorders in children. Children who had experienced five to nine traumatic events were almost five times as likely to have a mental health disorder than children who had not experienced any trauma, and children whose mothers had fair or poor mental health were more than twice as likely to have such a disorder than children whose mothers had good to excellent mental health.