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Emerging opportunities for life course research on neighbourhoods and mental health
  1. Milagros Ruiz1,
  2. Basile Chaix2
  1. 1 Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Sorbonne Université, INSERM, Institut Pierre Louis d’Épidémiologie et de Santé Publique, Nemesis research team, Paris, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr Milagros Ruiz, Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 7HB, UK; m.a.ruiz{at}ucl.ac.uk

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Social capital, referring to the quality and quantity of social relationships in a community, and the socioeconomic characteristics of neighbourhoods are considered influential determinants for the mental well-being of residents,1–3 but most of the empirical evidence on these relationships is limited in several ways. Cross-sectional studies cannot distinguish between social causation and social selection/drift mechanisms. For example, poor mental health may constrain individuals to migrate into, or remain in, neighbourhoods with worse conditions.1 2 A further, and equally critical, limitation of the cross-sectional design for this research area is the absence of the life course approach.

While common mental disorders can occur at any age, the first onset of major depression most likely occurs during young adulthood. Consequently, depression onset in young adulthood is a powerful predictor of chronic depression or recurrent depressive episodes in later life.4 Therefore, understanding the links between the neighbourhood environment, as intertwined with and influencing other life circumstances (job market integration, social integration) and depression during young adulthood is crucial to assess how these conditions may increase the risk of developing this disorder. Given limited and conflicting reports for emerging adults, it is unclear whether life circumstances and more proximate risk factors play a greater role than neighbourhood factors at this life stage, or whether neighbourhoods are important through their impact on these determinants.5

Goldstein and colleagues add much-needed life course evidence to this literature by investigating the associations between social fragmentation (a composite index based on the share of female-headed households, residents living in the area <5 years, foreign-born residents and renters), income inequality (GINI index) and economic disadvantage (household income) with …

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