Evidence from systematic reviews suggests that adult immigrants living in areas of higher immigrant density (areas with a higher proportion of foreign-born residents) tend to experience fewer mental health problems—likely through less discrimination, greater access to culturally/linguistically appropriate services, and greater social support. Less is known about how such contexts are associated with mental health during childhood—a key period in the onset and development of many mental health challenges. This study examined associations between neighbourhood immigrant density and youth mental health conditions in British Columbia (BC; Canada).
Census-derived neighbourhood characteristics were linked to medical records for youth present in ten of BC’s largest school districts from age 5 through 19 over the study period (1995–2016; n = 138,090). Occurrence of physician assessed diagnoses of mood and/or anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and conduct disorder was inferred through International Classification of Diseases (ICD) diagnostic codes in universal public health insurance records. Multi-level logistic regression was used to model associations between neighbourhood characteristics and odds of diagnoses for each condition; models were stratified by generation status (first-generation: foreign-born; second-generation: Canadian-born to a foreign-born parent; non-immigrant).
Higher neighbourhood immigrant density was associated with lower odds of disorders among first-generation immigrant youth (e.g., adjusted odds of mood-anxiety disorders for those in neighbourhoods with the highest immigrant density were 0.67 times lower (95% CI: 0.49, 0.92) than those in neighbourhoods with the lowest immigrant density). Such protective associations generally extended to second-generation and non-immigrant youth, but were—for some disorders—stronger for first-generation than second-generation or non-immigrant youth.
Findings suggest there may be protective mechanisms associated with higher neighbourhood immigrant density for mental health conditions in immigrant and non-immigrant youth. It is important that future work examines potential pathways by which contextual factors impact immigrant and non-immigrant youth mental health.