Neighborhood Effects on Mental Health

Photo by Thomas Galvez Taken on July 1, 2011

Mental health is deeply intertwined with the built environment and conditions of every day life surrounding you. Low socioeconomic status inevitably creates strain and thus stress on civilians not only due to a lack in funds to live off of, but also because of the environments, situations, and importantly limitations associated with poverty. Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the American Public Health Association conducted an experimental study on the effects of neighborhoods (based on socioeconomic status) and the concurrent mental health status of the residing residents. Select families located in high-poverty neighborhoods were relocated to “non-poor” residences to live and be later compared with families of their original impoverished neighborhood. The experiment was followed up on 3 years after the relocation; revealing significantly less stress in parents that had moved and greatly decreased mental health issues such as depression or anxiety in their children. The experiment ultimately provides hard evidence on how the abstract concept of built design and environment can affect mental health and not just stress.

This evidence is beneficial to my argument as it provides substantial information on the relationships between graffiti, street art, and vandalism, and how they affect the communities central to them. Poor neighborhoods are more prone to small petty crime such as tagging, and thus according to the Broken Window Theory, these small crimes multiply while the community around them takes little to no action. All these “broken windows” create a subjectively more hostile environment, limiting community interaction and further the already stressful situation of the poor.

Leventhal, Tama, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Moving to Opportunity: an Experimental Study of Neighborhood Effects on Mental Health.” American Journal of Public Health 93.9 (2003): 1576-582. Web.

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