Individual and family attributes may make some adolescents more ‘resilient’ to the effects of living in a disadvantaged community, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC. How inner city young people feel about their own psychological and social health and the area where they live is influenced by differences in home and social life as well as the physical environment, says a study led by Professor Sarah Curtis, of Queen Mary, University of London.
Research based on The RELACHS survey among 2,790 adolescents in 28 schools in East London, found also that other young people may have characteristics making them more susceptible to the impact of area deprivation (see Notes for Editors).
Data from the survey was linked to details about the neighbourhoods where the youngsters were living, enabling researchers to gather individual information about each young person and their family.
Professor Curtis said: “Overall, individual adolescents seemed to be sensitive to conditions in the areas where they lived. They were more likely to have negative perceptions of the neighbourhood if their homes were in more disadvantaged areas.
“We also found that the young people’s dissatisfaction with their neighbourhood, and negative perceptions of local amenities, were quite strongly and positively associated with psychological distress.
“However, we cannot ascertain whether this was because poor perception of the neighbourhood contributed to their psychological distress, or that distressed children were more likely to view their neighbourhood negatively.”
From the survey, researchers examined information including adolescents’ own views of their psychological and social health, their perception of local amenities, general satisfaction or otherwise with their neighbourhood, their ethnic group and whether they had a long-term illness or special educational needs.
The survey also showed whether the young people lived with both natural parents, a lone parent, or a parent co-habiting with a new partner, and if in the family there was discord or harmony, unemployment, money problems or social support.
Those from areas with higher deprivation in education, income and employment had a generally poorer perception of local amenities, whereas those from areas near to parks or major roads were more positive in their views. Children from areas of educational deprivation also tended to express greater dissatisfaction with their environment.
Whilst there was some evidence that those who lived in more deprived areas had poorer health, this was not significant in statistical terms, says the study. Far more evident were the strong associations between mental health and individuals’ home and social situations.
On average, mental distress was worse for girls than boys and for children with long term illness, special educational needs and reconstituted families.
Mental health was better for those whose families offered strong social support, had no financial worries and harmonious relationships.
Dissatisfaction with the neighbourhood was also greater among girls than boys and older adolescents. Those who were of Asian or Black origin, and from relatively harmonious families with higher levels of social support, were less likely to be unhappy about the area in which they lived.
Backgrounds of unemployment, and low level of skills and educational attainment, had a much smaller effect on attitudes.