The impact of neighbourhood crime on mental health: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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Growing evidence indicates that the residential neighbourhood contributes to the complex aetiology of mental disorders. Although local crime and violence, key neighbourhood stressors, may be linked to mental health through direct and indirect pathways, studies are inconclusive. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to synthetize the evidence on the association between neighbourhood crime and individual-level mental health problems.

We searched 11 electronic databases, grey literature and reference lists to identify relevant studies published before September 14, 2020. Studies were included if they reported confounder-adjusted associations between objective or perceived area-level crime and anxiety, depression, psychosis or psychological distress/ internalising symptoms in non-clinical samples. Effect measures were first converted into Fisher’s z-s, pooled with three-level random-effects meta-analyses, and then transformed into Pearson’s correlation coefficients. Univariate and multivariate mixed-effects models were used to explore between-study heterogeneity.

We identified 63 studies reporting associations between local crime and residents’ mental health. Pooled associations were significant for depression (r=0.04, 95% CI 0.03-0.06), psychological distress (r=0.04, 95% CI 0.02-0.06), anxiety (r=0.05, 95% CI 0.01-0.10), and psychosis (r=0.04, 95% CI 0.01-0.07). Moderator analysis for depression and psychological distress identified stronger associations with perceived crime measurement and weaker in studies adjusted for area-level deprivation. Importantly, even after accounting for study characteristics, neighbourhood crime remained significantly linked to depression and psychological distress. Findings on anxiety and psychosis were limited due to low number of included studies.

Local crime is an important contextual predictor of mental health with implications for prevention and policy. Area-based crime interventions targeting the determinants of crime, prevention and service allocation to high crime neighbourhoods may have public mental health benefits. Future research should investigate the causal pathways between crime exposure and mental disorders, identify vulnerably groups and explore policy opportunities for buffering against the detrimental effect of neighbourhood stressors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114106
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date6 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


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