Does heightened fear of crime lead to poorer mental health in new suburbs, or vice versa?

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© 2016 Elsevier Ltd
Fear of crime is implicated as a risk factor for poorer mental health, yet few studies have explored whether there is a causal relationship between fear of crime and health, or tested the direction of the relationship. Does, for example, heightened fear of crime lead to poorer mental health, or could poorer mental health exacerbate fear of crime? RESIDE participants in Perth, Australia, completed a questionnaire three years after moving to their neighbourhood (2007–2008, n = 1230), and again four years later (2011–2012, n = 531). The impact of fear of crime on psychological distress (Kessler-6) was examined in SAS using the Proc Mixed procedure (marginal repeated measures model with unrestricted variance pattern). Models controlled for demographics and time, and progressively adjusted for avoidance behaviours (i.e., walking, community participation, social cohesion). This approach was repeated with psychological distress as the independent variable and fear of crime as the outcome. For each increase in one standard deviation (SD) in fear of crime, psychological distress increased by 0.680 (p = 0.0001), however in the reversed models, for each one SD increase in psychological distress, fear of crime increased by 0.152 (p = 0.0001). To help explain these results, temporal order models examined whether baseline values predicted follow-up values. There was a significant association between psychological distress (at baseline) and fear of crime (at follow-up), but no association between fear of crime (at baseline) and psychological distress (at follow-up). The findings suggest a bi-directional relationship exists between fear of crime and mental health, however it appears that higher psychological distress over time leads to higher fear of crime, rather than the reverse. Furthermore, the pathway connecting fear of crime and mental health appears to be direct, rather than via constrained social and physical activities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-34
Number of pages5
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date8 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


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