Impact of the built environment on urban adolescent depressive symptoms


Whitt, Ahmed (2013). Impact of the built environment on urban adolescent depressive symptoms.


Urban youth are particularly likely to experience depression; social and psychological risk factors alone fail to explain the disproportionately urban distribution of the disorder. Despite a growing body of evidence showing an independent impact of the neighborhood built environment on family processes, neighbor relations, and individual internalizing disorders, few researchers have attempted to isolate the effects of the built environment or the physical aspects of communities. This study examined the relationship between neighborhood built environment factors and adolescent depressive symptoms with three interconnected analyses. A systematic review of empirical studies of adolescents, which included a depressive symptoms dependent variable and at least one built environment independent variable found previous research to be consistent with an emerging conceptual model of depression in urban adolescents. Within the model, the neighborhood built environment is hypothesized to have direct and indirect influences on adolescent depressive symptoms and depressive symptom correlates, including individual mental processes, family social factors, and neighborhood social factors. Data from the Obesity and Neighborhood Environment (ONE) study, a substudy of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), were analyzed using factor analysis to generate an eight-item, two-factor built environment tool measuring resource availability and landscape diversity within the urban context. In the final set of analyses, the two factors were found to assess different aspects of the physical makeup of community, were used in a multilevel logistic regression to predict adolescent depressive symptoms along with additional covariates measuring individual mental processes, family relationships, and neighborhood social factors covariates. Accessibility to neighborhood resources was found to have a minimal association with depressive symptoms; however, the significant association between adolescent neighborhood perceptions and depressive symptoms (OR = .37, p < .001) can provide insight on built environment measurement in future adolescent mental health studies by broadening the conceptualization of built environment to include both subjective and objective components. The findings also have implications for urban development policy; the role of social workers as client advocates for specific interventions is highlighted.



Urban youth adolescent depressive symptoms adolescent mental health adolescent neighborhood perceptions built environment built environment measurement client advocates depressive symptom correlates depressive symptoms emerging conceptual model empirica

Reference Type


Book Title

Social Work


Whitt, Ahmed

Series Author(s)

Howard, Matthew O.

Year Published


Volume Number





The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

City of Publication

Chapel Hill, NC





Reference ID