On the other hand, living in an area with strong social ties and low feelings of racism has been shown to improve residents’ moods.
Daniel Russell, professor of human development and family studies, and Carolyn Cutrona, professor and chair of psychology, report that living in a neighborhood with a negative social infrastructure can prevent residents from forming neighborly friendships.
And it’s the absence of these social ties that have a small but significant impact on a person’s mental health.
“If you’re living in neighborhoods where there’s a lot of crime, gang activities and so forth, you see weaker social ties,” said Russell.
“One of the things we tried to assess was essentially community support — to what extent people in that neighborhood turned to others for child care, other forms of assistance — and whether they socialize and know each other. And it’s clear that in these negative neighborhoods there’s this inverse relationship in terms of their various problems and lack of strong ties,” he added.
Regular stressors that everyone experiences are amplified in negative living situations, possibly being the final push into a depressive state.
“The effects of things going wrong in your own life are magnified when you live in one of these negative neighborhoods,” said Cutrona.
“So it affects all of us to have a sick family member, or lose our job, or to be robbed. But when that happens to someone in these neighborhoods, it increases the probability that the person will be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder over the next two years. Yet if the same event happened and you were in a more benign neighborhood, your chances of becoming clinically depressed were less.”
In the study, participants chose “neighborhood cohesion” as the most desirable trait for their neighborhoods. And those who lived in social neighborhoods were far less likely to move away.
Interestingly, a lack of racism was the only factor capable of greatly improving depression among the African American subjects once they had moved.
“If the new neighborhood was less racist overall — not just their perception, but the perception of multiple people who lived in that neighborhood — then the subjects’ moods improved following that move,” Cutrona said.
“So it was not about moving to a wealthier neighborhood, or even a safer neighborhood, but moving to a less racist neighborhood that impacted depression levels.”
The researchers added that the study’s sample does not only reveal perceptions of low income families. In fact, only about 20 percent of the families surveyed were living in poverty, and the sample included a diverse range of family incomes, including some families that made more than $200,000 per year.
“When we started the study, the average income of this study matched the average income of Iowans,” Russell said.
However, Cutrona and Russell both agree that it is the low-income participants living in negative neighborhoods who are most prone to lingering depression.
“If you have to live in one of these neighborhoods, you may not have the resources for health insurance and good mental health care,” Cutrona said. “And you may not have the support around you to say, This is depression and it’s treatable.”
Source: Iowa State University