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The protective effect of neighbourhood social cohesion on adolescent mental health following stressful life events

  • Mila Kingsbury (a1), Zahra Clayborne (a1), Ian Colman (a1) and James B. Kirkbride (a2)



Exposure to stressful life events is an established risk factor for the development of adolescent mental disorder. Growing evidence also suggests that neighbourhood social environments, including strong social cohesion, could have a protective effect on mental health. However, little is known about how neighbourhood social cohesion may buffer against the effects of stressful life events on adolescent mental health. Our aim was to assess whether neighbourhood social cohesion modifies the association between stressful life events and adolescent mental health outcomes.


Data were drawn from a nationally-representative prospective sample of Canadian adolescents, including 5183 adolescents aged 12/13 years at T1 and 14/15 years at T2. Caregivers reported neighbourhood social cohesion at T1, and exposure to stressful life events between T1 and T2. Symptoms of mental health and behaviour problems were self-reported by adolescents at T1 and T2. Multivariable logistic regression was used to determine whether the relationship between stressful life events and outcomes was modified by neighbourhood social cohesion.


Associations between stressful life events and adolescent outcomes were statistically significantly lower in neighbourhoods with greater social cohesion for: depression/anxiety (high cohesion OR = 0.98 v. low cohesion OR = 3.11), suicidal ideation (ORhigh = 1.30 v. ORlow = 5.25), aggression/conduct disorder (ORhigh = 1.09 v. ORlow = 4.27), and property offence (ORhigh = 1.21 v. ORlow = 4.21).


Greater neighbourhood social cohesion appeared to buffer the effects of stressful life events on several domains of adolescent mental health. This potentially presents a target for public health intervention to improve adolescent mental health and behavioural outcomes.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Ian Colman, E-mail:


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Authors contributed equally to the project



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