Living in Urban Neighborhoods Poses Mental Health Risk in Children, New Study Says

Mental health word cloudFor 70% of children who suffer from a mental health disorder, their problems started when they were children, and researchers are now trying to figure out why.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina and King’s College London have worked together to see how a child’s neighborhood can affect their mental health.

To do this, the researchers studied 2,232 British twins from the day they were born until they were 12 years old. Their goal was to determine if there were any specific conditions in urban areas that repeatedly contributed to psychotic manifestations in children.

This study is the first of its kind to focus on the link between psychotic symptoms and living in a urban neighborhood.

Psychotic symptoms in individuals include having paranoid thoughts, hearing or seeing people who are not there, and believing that others can read their mind. These childhood experiences are directly associated with schizophrenia in adulthood.

The study found that 12-year-old children living in cities were almost twice as likely to suffer from psychotic symptoms, compared to those living in suburban areas.

Additionally, 7.4% of children in urban neighborhoods reported having at least one psychotic experience before their 12th birthdays. Only 4.4% of children living in suburban areas reported any incidents of metal health.

Researchers looked at four neighborhood experiences to help determine the link. The factors include cohesiveness between neighbors, the chance neighbors would intervene when problems occurred, crime victimization, and disorder such as vandalism and noisy neighbors.

The psychotic symptoms were seen in the children who lived in urban areas with low social control, no social cohesion, and frequent neighborhood misconduct.

Children whose family members were victims of crimes were also profoundly affected.

Senior lecturer and MQ Fellow at King’s College London Helen Fisher wants to reinforce that these symptoms are not necessarily permanent.

Fisher tells Science Daily, “Just because a child experiences a psychotic symptom does not mean he or she will develop full-blown mental health disorders. Many children grow out of them, but these unusual early experiences can lead to a range of problems later.”

The scientists are calling for additional research to better understand psychotic symptoms in adolescence.

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