Context: Little research has investigated possible effects of neighborhood residence on mental health problems in children such as depression, anxiety, and withdrawal.
Objective: To examine whether children's mental health is associated with neighborhood structural characteristics (concentrated disadvantage, immigrant concentration, and residential stability) and whether neighborhood social processes (collective efficacy and organizational participation) underlie such effects.
Design and setting: The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods is a multilevel, longitudinal study of a representative sample of children aged 5 to 11 years in the late 1990s recruited from 80 neighborhoods. A community survey assessing neighborhood social processes was conducted with an independent sample of adult residents in these 80 neighborhoods and is used in conjunction with US census data to assess neighborhood conditions.
Participants: A total of 2805 children (18.1% European American, 33.8% African American, and 48.1% Latino) and their primary caregivers were seen twice.
Main outcome measures: Child Behavior Checklist total raw and clinical cutoff scores for internalizing behavior problems (depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and somatic problems).
Results: The percentages of children above the clinical threshold were 21.5%, 18.3%, and 11.5% in neighborhoods of low, medium, and high socioeconomic status, respectively. A substantial proportion of variance in children's total internalizing scores (intraclass correlation, 11.1%) was attributable to between-neighborhood differences. Concentrated disadvantage was associated with more mental health problems and a higher number of children in the clinical range, after accounting for family demographic characteristics, maternal depression, and earlier child mental health scores. Neighborhood collective efficacy and organizational participation were associated with better mental health, after accounting for neighborhood concentrated disadvantage. Collective efficacy mediated the effect of concentrated disadvantage.
Conclusions: A large number of children in poor neighborhoods have mental health problems. The mechanism through which neighborhood economic effects operated was community social control and cohesion, which may be amenable to intervention.