An estimated 3.1 million American adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2016, negatively affecting their family, peer, and academic functioning. Research in recent decades has considered the role of social and institutional neighborhood characteristics in adolescents’ depression; however, comparatively few studies have tested psychological mechanisms by which adolescents may internalize such aspects of their neighborhoods. One mechanism may be neighborhood self-efficacy (i.e., how capable an adolescent feels they can navigate throughout their neighborhood avoiding conflict or harm). This study examines the degree to which neighborhood disorder, collective efficacy, and availability of youth-centered institutional resources predict adolescents’ depressive symptoms both directly and indirectly through neighborhood self-efficacy.
Drawing upon social disorganization and social cognitive theories, latent variable structural equation models were estimated in Mplus version 8.1 with an unweighted sample of 1,390 adolescents ages 9 and 12 years old at baseline (T1). Data originated from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN). This study examined how adolescents’ neighborhood characteristics at baseline (T1) impacted their depressive symptoms reported at wave 3 (T3), both directly and indirectly through their neighborhood-self-efficacy at wave 2 (T2). The Monte Carlo method for assessing mediation was used and confidence intervals computed for indirect effects.
Model fit indices suggested an adequately-fitting model with CFI of .93 and RMSEA of .023 with CI [.019, .027]. Neighborhood disorder significantly predicted adolescents’ depressive symptoms, but in the opposite direction expected (β = -.14, p = .04, 95% CI [-.276, -.003]). More available youth-centered resources in the neighborhood predicted fewer depressive symptoms across time (β = -.11, p = .00, 95% CI [-.186, -.073]). Less disorder predicted more neighborhood self-efficacy (β = -.20, p = .00, 95% CI [-.331, -.071]), as did more availability of youth-centered resources (β = .08, p = .03, 95% CI [.007, .162]). Adolescents perceiving themselves as more efficacious in their neighborhoods at T2 experienced significantly fewer depressive symptoms at T3 (β = -.14, p = .02, 95% CI [-.256, -.028]). Partial mediation was detected in that neighborhood self-efficacy was found to convey some effect of disorder on depressive symptoms (β = .02, 95% CI [.002, .052]); in other words, living in more disordered neighborhoods predicted less neighborhood self-efficacy which, in turn, predicted more depressive symptoms over time.
This study’s findings comport with those of even the earliest empirical and conceptual research regarding the relevance of place to psychological well-being. Of emphasis for future research pertains to the study’s findings that physical aspects of the neighborhood environment, in addition to the oft-studied social components, affect young residents’ depressive symptoms. Rather than intervening upon social characteristics of a neighborhood (e.g., attempting to bolster residents’ social cohesion), a community’s built environment may be more actionable for promoting resilience from depressive symptoms. Future practice and policy efforts may tend to bolstering community-based opportunities for adolescents to build feelings of efficaciousness, and examine how other ecologies may shape opportunities to build robust behavioral health.