Academic Commons

Articles

Cause and context: place-based approaches to investigate how environments affect mental health

Lovasi, Gina S.; Mooney, Stephen; DiMaggio, Charles J.; Muennig, Peter A.

Objectives Our surroundings affect our mood, our recovery from stress, our behavior, and, ultimately, our mental health. Understanding how our surroundings influence mental health is central to creating healthy cities. However, the traditional observational methods now dominant in the psychiatric epidemiology literature are not sufficient to advance such an understanding. In this essay we consider potential alternative strategies, such as randomizing people to places, randomizing places to change, or harnessing natural experiments that mimic randomized experiments. Methods We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these methodological approaches with respect to (1) defining the most relevant scale and characteristics of context, (2) disentangling the effects of context from the effects of individuals’ preferences and prior health, and (3) generalizing causal effects beyond the study setting. Results Promising alternative strategies include creating many small-scale randomized place-based trials, using the deployment of place-based changes over time as natural experiments, and using fluctuations in the changes in our surroundings in combination with emerging data collection technologies to better understand how surroundings influence mood, behavior, and mental health. Conclusions Improving existing research strategies will require interdisciplinary partnerships between those specialized in mental health, those advancing new methods for place effects on health, and those who seek to optimize the design of local environments.

Files

  • thumnail for Cause_and_Context_Oct16.pdf Cause_and_Context_Oct16.pdf application/pdf 408 KB Download File

More Information

Published In
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Publisher DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-016-1300-x
Volume
51
Issue
12
Pages
1571 - 1579
Publisher
Springer Verlag
Academic Units
Epidemiology
Academic Commons provides global access to research and scholarship produced at Columbia University, Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary and Jewish Theological Seminary. Academic Commons is managed by the Columbia University Libraries.