Associations between neighbourhood characteristics and depression: a twin study

Background: Depression is an important contributor to the global burden of disease. Besides several known individual-level factors that contribute to depression, there is a growing recognition that neighbourhood environment can also profoundly affect mental health. This study assessed associations between three neighbourhood constructs-socioeconomic deprivation, residential instability and income inequality-and depression among adult twin pairs. The twin design is used to examine the association between neighbourhood constructs and depression, controlling for selection factors (ie, genetic and shared environmental factors) that have confounded purported associations.

Methods: We used multilevel random-intercept Poisson regression among 3738 same-sex twin pairs from a community-based twin registry to examine the association between neighbourhood constructs and depression. The within-pair association controls for confounding by genetic and environmental factors shared between twins within a pair, and is the main parameter of interest. Models were adjusted for individual-level income, education and marital status, and further by neighbourhood-level population density.

Results: When twins were analysed as individuals (phenotypic model), all neighbourhood constructs were significantly associated with depression. However, only neighbourhood socioeconomic deprivation showed a significant within-pair association with depression. A 10-unit within-pair difference in neighbourhood socioeconomic deprivation was associated with 6% greater depressive symptoms (1.06, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.11); the association did not substantially change in adjusted models.

Conclusion: This study provides new evidence linking neighbourhood socioeconomic deprivation with greater depression. Future studies should employ longitudinal designs to better test social causation versus social selection.

Cohen-Cline H, Beresford SAA, Barrington WE, Matsueda RL, Wakefield J, Duncan GE. Associations between neighbourhood characteristics and depression: a twin study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2018 Mar;72(3):202-207. PMC6007871.