A new study from researchers at Duke University and King’s College London says that living in neighbourhoods with high crime rates and low social cohesion can cause psychotic symptoms among urban children. The study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, cites that children in urban areas are 7.4 percent more likely to suffer from at least one of the symptoms by age 12, compared to 4.4 percent chances of those residing in non-urban locations.
The symptoms include hearing or seeing things that others people do not experience, paranoid thoughts, and believing people can read other minds. According to Duke University’s Associate Professor of psychology and public policy Candice Odgers, the findings can help identify which neighbourhoods can cause mental health problems.
They found that children in urban areas are two times more likely to suffer from psychotic symptoms than children in non-urban areas. The researchers assert that experiencing psychotic symptoms do not necessarily mean that a person will suffer from mental health disorders in the future. In other words, children grow out of these symptoms.
The team studied 2,232 British twins from birth to age 12. The children’s psychotic symptoms at age 12 were evaluated during interviews at their homes.
The participants’ family history of psychotic symptoms and mental health problems were taken into account, as well as the social support among neighbourhoods, graffiti, vandalism, disorder and crime incidents.
High neighbourhood disorder, low social cohesion, and low social control can lead to psychotic symptoms. Crime victimisation and low social cohesion have the greatest impact on one’s mental health. These neighbourhoods were also economically deprived. The research team points out that the problem can intensify as more people are expected to move to cities by 2050.
The findings suggest early interventions are needed to prevent other problems later in a child’s life. These factors can be controlled or at least alleviated, the researchers assert. The team adds that more investigations are needed to understand the psychotic symptoms in later adolescence. Moreover, they recommend replicating the study with more participants.