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Leaving a Poor Neighborhood Could Hurt Boys’ Mental Health

Update Date: Mar 05, 2014 03:06 PM EST

Studies have found that people from poorer neighborhoods tend to suffer more from health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. In a new study, researchers analyzed the effects of moving out of poverty on young boys and girls. The researchers discovered that young boys specifically, who move out of poverty, have a greater risk of suffering from depression and conduct disorders.

"Giving poor families the opportunity to move to better neighborhoods has a significant mental effect on kids in the family," said lead researcher Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School according to Philly. "The striking thing was the mental health effects were positive for girls and negative for boys."

For this study, Kessler and his team randomly picked 4,600 families to track. The families were living in public housing located in low-income neighborhoods. The children were between the ages of just a few months and eight-years-old at the beginning of the study. Some of the families received vouchers that would relocate them to a richer neighborhood. Other families were given vouchers to move to any neighborhood of their choice. Another group of families acted as the control and did not receive any vouchers at all.

The researchers monitored all three groups of families for at least one decade. In 10 to 15 years, the researchers interviewed around 1,400 boys and 1,500 girls. The team discovered that seven percent of the boys who relocated to a richer neighborhood was suffering from major depression. Only 3.5 percent of the boys who stayed in their poor neighborhood had depression. When the researchers looked at posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they found that the rates for relocated and non-relocated boys were 6.2 and 1.9 percent respectively.

In terms of conduct disorder, 6.4 percent of boys who moved had behavioral issues whereas only 2.1 percent of the boys who stayed did. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines conduct disorders as bullying, fighting, breaking school property, skipping school or classes and breaking other rules. The academy also includes cruelty to animals and other people as a conduct disorder.

The researchers reasoned that boys face more obstacles when they move into a richer neighborhood because they are more likely than girls to be labeled a "juvenile delinquent." The effects of labeling could isolate them from making new friends, which could then lead to the development of these mental illnesses. The researchers also hypothesized that boys suffer more from moving than girls because girls might have a stronger support base.

"We know that in many poor neighborhoods fathers are absent," Dr. Victor Fornari said. "Generally youth are raised by mothers and grandmothers, so boys often don't have positive male role models and girls usually have the support of their mothers."

The researchers stated that these findings stress the importance of identifying these mental illnesses in high-risk boys and treating them accordingly. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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