Perceived neighbourhood characteristics and depressive symptoms
Background: Multiple neighbourhood characteristics have been linked to depressive symptoms. However, few studies have simultaneously considered multiple mechanisms that explain this relationship, and how they might interact. Further, most studies regard exposure to the residential environment as constant, and therefore disregard variation in exposure by individual factors. This study investigates whether and to what extent stress and physical activity mediate the association between neighbourhood characteristics and depression, and also to what extent employment status moderates this relationship.
Methods: A population-representative survey of n = 11,505 people in the Netherlands was conducted. Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Neighbourhood characteristics were perceived green and blue space, pleasantness, environmental disturbance, social cohesion and safety. Employment status was combined with place of work to establish two groups: those who were non-working or who worked from home (‘at home’), and those who worked somewhere outside of the home (‘working’). Multi-group structural equation modelling was employed to understand the theorised relationships for both groups.
Results: Perceived environmental disturbance, social cohesion and safety were significantly indirectly related to depressive symptoms via stress, with larger effect sizes in the ‘at home’ group. Pleasantness was also significantly indirectly related to depressive symptoms via stress, in the ‘at home’ group only. There was no evidence for physical activity as a mediator.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that neighbourhood social characteristics may have a greater influence on depressive symptoms than physical characteristics. Stress appears to be a key mediator of this relationship. In addition, the neighbourhood appears to exert a greater influence on those who spend more time in their neighbourhood. Interventions to promote mental health should focus on the social environment, and in particular pay attention to those who are spatially confined in poorer quality neighbourhoods.
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