Changing levels of local crime and mental health: A natural experiment utilising self-reported and service use data in Scotland

Gergo Baranyi, Mark Cherrie, Sarah Curtis, Chris Dibben, Jamie Pearce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background This study contributes robust evidence on the association between mental health and local crime rates by showing how changing exposure to small area-level crime relates to self-reported and administrative data on mental health.

Methods The study sample comprised 112 251 adults aged 16–60 years, drawn from the Scottish Longitudinal Study, a 5.3% representative sample of Scottish population followed across censuses. Outcomes were individual mental health indicators: self-reported mental illness from the 2011 Census and linked administrative data on antidepressants and antipsychotics prescribed through primary care providers in the National Health Service in 2010/2012. Crime rates at data zone level (500–1000 persons) were matched to the participants’ main place of residence, as defined by general practitioner patient registration duration during 2004/2006, 2007/2009 and 2010/12. Average neighbourhood crime exposure and change in area crime were computed. Covariate-adjusted logistic regressions were conducted, stratified by moving status.

Results In addition to average crime exposure during follow-up, recent increases in crime (2007/2009–2010/2012) were associated with a higher risk of self-reported mental illness, among ‘stayers’ aged 16–30 years (OR=1.11; 95% CI 1.00 to 1.22), and among ‘movers’ aged 31–45 years (OR=1.07; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.13). Prescribed medications reinforced these findings; worsening crime rates were linked with antidepressant prescriptions among young stayers (OR=1.09; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.14) and with antipsychotic prescriptions among younger middle-aged movers (OR=1.11; 95% CI 1.01 to 1.23).

Conclusion Changing neighbourhood crime exposure is related to individual mental health, but associations differ by psychiatric conditions, age and moving status. Crime reduction and prevention, especially in communities with rising crime rates, may benefit public mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806-814
JournalJournal of Epidemiology & Community Health
Early online date5 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2020


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