Residential segregation, dividing walls and mental health: a population-based record linkage study

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Abstract

Background

Neighbourhood segregation has been described as a fundamental determinant of physical health, but literature on its effect on mental health is less clear. While most previous research has relied on conceptualised measures of segregation, Northern Ireland is unique as it contains physical manifestations of segregation in the form of segregation barriers (or ‘peacelines’) which can be used to accurately identify residential segregation.

Methods

We used population-wide health record data on over 1.3 million individuals, to analyse the effect of residential segregation, measured by both the formal Dissimilarity Index and by proximity to a segregation barrier, on the likelihood of poor mental health.

Results

Using multilevel logistic regression models, we found residential segregation measured by the Dissimilarity Index poses no additional risk to the likelihood of poor mental health after adjustment for area-level deprivation. However, residence in an area segregated by a ‘peaceline’ increases the likelihood of antidepressant medication by 19% (OR=1.19, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.23) and anxiolytic medication by 39% (OR=1.39, 95% CI 1.32 to 1.48), even after adjustment for gender, age, conurbation, deprivation and crime.

Conclusions

Living in an area segregated by a ‘peaceline’ is detrimental to mental health suggesting segregated areas characterised by a heightened sense of ‘other’ pose a greater risk to mental health. The difference in results based on segregation measure highlights the importance of choice of measure when studying segregation.

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