Leaving high poverty affects mental health of boys, girls differently, says study

poor kid

A study published in the March 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that the rates of depression and conduct disorders rise in boys and fall in girls who've moved out of high-poverty neighborhoods.

While observational studies have long shown that youths in high-poverty areas have consistently higher rates of emotional problems versus children in middle-class neighborhoods, these new findings raise the possibility that the problems may be dealt with with neighborhood-level interventions. Previously, it had always been assumed that removing the child from the high-poverty neighborhood would lessen the rate of emotional problems, but this study calls that assumption into question.

The study, lead by Ronal C. Kessler, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, looked at 2,872 adolescents. Interviews with children and parents at ages 0 to 8 were done and then followed on 10 to 15 years later (starting in June 2008) for re-assessment. The mixture of boys and girls was roughly half and the DSM-4 was used to assess the presence of mental disorders.

Compared with a control group, a higher proportion of boys in the low-poverty group had major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder. For girls, the results were opposite.

The authors speculate that the sex differences found in this study "..were due to girls profiting more than boys from moving to better neighborhoods because of sex differences in both neighborhood experiences and in the social skills needed to capitalize on the new opportunities presented by their improved neighborhoods."

The difficulty, the study authors acknowledge, is that the results are either counter to current policy initiatives or give no suggestion for policy interventions.


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