While much literature has examined the independent effect of perceived neighbourhood disorder on criminal behaviour and/or mental disorder, comparatively little is known about the role of depressive symptoms on these associations over time.
Our aim was to examine whether depressive symptoms mediate association between perceived neighbourhood disorder, future criminal justice contact, and future suicidal ideation.
We grounded this research in primary arguments derived from General Strain Theory (GST). Data were drawn from structured self-reports in surveys of over 2000 young adult participants from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, who are the offspring born to the women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. Information on neighbourhood disorder and depressive symptoms were used from the 2012 data collection period, while information on criminal justice contact and suicidal ideation were drawn from the 2014 period. Structural equation modelling was used to examine both direct and indirect pathways between neighbourhood disorder, depression, contact with the justice system, and suicidal ideation from 2012 to 2014.
Depressive symptoms were found to partially mediate the effect of perceived neighbourhood disorder on future criminal justice contact, with the strength of this effect varying across categories of race/ethnicity. The association between perceived neighbourhood disorder and suicidal ideation was fully mediated by depressive symptoms.
Conclusions and implications
Our findings are consistent with an ecological stress framework integrated with arguments from GST to understand the associations between neighbourhood disorder, criminal justice contact, and severe mental illness. Future research is needed on gender and racial/ethnic pathways. The reported findings suggest that, in addition to neighbourhood improvements, ready access to mental health services could not only reduce the risk of suicide but support safer communities.