Science in Practice Articles

Love thy neighbour; they’ll make you happier – Abigail Stubbs

Poorer people are at higher risk of mental illness – but having good neighbours may well make a difference. The social factors which determine mental health are known (eg., social status, employment, bereavement) but the impact of neighbourhood is less explored. Fone and his colleagues (2014) wanted to see whether the unity of a neighbourhood, not just the wealth, could affect an individual’s mental health.

They measured deprivation, social cohesion and mental health in 36 neighbourhoods and followed up for 7 years to observe for a change in mental health. Social cohesion means the level of trust and bonds formed at community level. We knew from previous evidence that there is a relationship between these things, but this hadn’t been explored over a period of years. As expected, they found that high levels of deprivation correlated to higher levels of mental illness. However, communities with high social cohesion had significantly lower mental illness rates compared to those with low social cohesion – even in areas of high deprivation.

This research suggests that the effect of an environment can be modified by the atmosphere within it. This means that interventions that focus on bringing together communities, make people feel safe and love their neighbourhood may have a positive impact on mental health.

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