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Perceived and Objectively-Measured Neighborhood Violence and Adolescent Psychological Distress

  • Author(s): Goldman-Mellor, S
  • Margerison-Zilko, C
  • Allen, K
  • Cerda, M
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2016, The New York Academy of Medicine. Prior research examining links between neighborhood violence and mental health has not been able to establish whether it is perceived levels of neighborhood violence, or actual levels of violent crime, that matter most for adolescents’ psychological well-being. In this study, we ascertained both perceived neighborhood safety and objectively-measured neighborhood-level violent crime (using a novel geospatial index of police-reported crime incidents) for 4464 adolescent respondents from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS 2011–2014). We used propensity score-matched regression models to examine associations between these measures and CHIS adolescents’ symptoms of psychological distress. We found that adolescents who perceived their neighborhood to be unsafe were two times more likely than those who perceived their neighborhood to be safe to report serious psychological distress (OR = 2.4, 95 % CI = 1.20, 4.96). Adolescents who lived in areas objectively characterized by high levels of violent crime, however, were no more likely than their peers in safer areas to be distressed (OR = 1.41; 95 % CI = 0.60, 3.32). Our results suggest that, at the population level, adolescents’ perceptions of neighborhood violence, rather than objective levels of neighborhood crime, are most salient for their mental health.

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