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April 15, 2009

Neighborhoods Perceived as Dangerous Affect Residents’ Mental Health, Research Shows

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Living in a neighborhood perceived as dangerous may cause anxiety, anger and depression among its residents, according to a recent study conducted by sociologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The emotional impact may reside as much or more in the perceived threat of the neighborhood than personally having experienced victimization such as being robbed, burglarized or attacked. Residents who have not experienced personal victimization may find their neighborhood just as troubling. While personal victimization accounts for 10 percent of the negative associations, mistrust and a sense of powerlessness account for most.

Catherine Ross and John Mirowsky, professors of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center, have published their findings in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Sociological Association.

“A neighborhood perceived as unsafe creates emotional distress in large part because it evokes mistrust of others,” said Ross. “It can create a sense of powerlessness to control one’s own life, which in turn leads to high levels of anxiety, anger and depression.”

One unexpected finding was that this environment could also tighten social networks. People are less trusting in general, but nevertheless feel more strongly that they have others they can rely on when in need. However, the research revealed that even a stronger support network gives little relief from the neighborhood’s distressing implications.

The article, “Neighborhood Disorder, Subjective Alienation and Distress,” is available to members of the media. Contact Jackie Cooper, media relations officer at the American Sociological Association, at or (202) 247-9871, to request the article or author interviews.

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The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is a quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.