All posts by Rich Mitchell

Changing places and mental health: do changes in perceptions of neighbourhood influence anxiety and depression in adults?

Written by Dr Jon Olsen, Research Associate with the Neighbourhoods and Communities programme, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. This blog is mirrored on the SPHSU website.

Mental health problems are a global issue. In 2013 over 615 million individuals suffered from anxiety and/or depression across the world, a rise of 50% since 1990. How people experience their local environment can impact on mental health. Living in areas that are perceived to have higher levels of neighbourhood problems such as poor housing quality, limited amounts of greenspace, industrial activity, and high traffic volume, has been linked to poorer mental health by some research studies. But, few studies have explored how change in what people think about their neighbourhood is linked to change in their mental health. It would be useful to know this as improving the neighbourhood environment could strengthen mental health.

In our recently published study, we wanted to see how changes in what people thought about their neighbourhood impacted on residents’ mental health over time. We looked at two mental health outcomes: anxiety and depression. Adults who lived in West Central Scotland, an area including Glasgow and eight neighbouring local authorities, were asked to complete the same questionnaire in 1997 and 2010.

Glasgow, United Kingdom – October 20, 2013: People come to walk around and shop at the historic Barras Market Place flea market.

What did we find?

Overall, anxiety and depression in the people we spoke to reduced between 1997 and 2010. However, those who experienced worsening neighbourhood perceptions from 1997 to 2010 also had increased anxiety and depression scores.

Why this matters

Our study showed that worsening neighbourhood perceptions were linked with small increases in anxiety and depression scores. People living in areas where perceptions of the neighbourhood got worse, did not benefit from the general improvements in anxiety and depression scores enjoyed by the population as a whole; this could widen health inequalities.

Wheelie bins (blue for recycling, green for general refuse) lined up for collection in a Glasgow alley.

 

The take home message from this study

There is a clear need for national and local policy to target areas where neighbourhood conditions are substantially deteriorating to ensure people’s mental health does not suffer.

Further information about the study

We used data from the Transport, Housing and Well-being study; a postal survey of adults in eight local authority areas in the west of Scotland in 1997 and 2010. More information and a link to the full questionnaire can be found here: http://thaw.sphsu.mrc.ac.uk/.

Anxiety and depression was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), a common measure of psychological distress that has been in use for over 30 years.

The full paper was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and is freely available here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.

The MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Medical Research Council or the Scottish Government.

Jobs at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods

Five Research Fellow posts are available at the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC). SHLC is one of the 37 major projects funded for 4 years by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Research Councils UK Collective Fund, which aims to build upon research knowledge in the UK, and strengthen research capacity overseas, to help address challenges in the developing countries.

SHLC will conduct comparative studies of urbanisation and the formation and differentiation of neighbourhoods in cities in order to address the challenges associated with large-scale rural-to-urban migration in Africa and Asia. The Centre, based at Glasgow, has eight international partners in South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, India, Bangladesh, China and the Philippines.

These jobs require expert knowledge in the areas of education, health, or urban studies in relation to developing countries from the perspective of development studies, geography, urban planning, urban studies, migration, public policy or other relevant social science disciplines.

Specifically, we expect each of the five posts to contribute specialist knowledge to the Centre in at least one of the following areas:

  • Cities, urbanisation and urban development in Africa, South Asia and/or East Asia
  • Education policy research and provision in developing countries
  • Health policy research and health facility provision in developing countries
  • Quantitative research and analytical skills including social survey, spatial analysis, GIS, Big Data.
  • Qualitative research and analytical skills and methods

    For further information and applying, please visit the following web site:
    https://www.gla.ac.uk/it/iframe/jobs/

    Search College of Social Sciences (Job Reference Number: 019448) Closing Date: 13th December 2017

GIS job – come and work with us

We have a great job going. It’s at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow. Your role will be within the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme . Your job will be to support the Programme Leader in developing research furthering our understanding of how social and physical environment might improve public health and reduce health inequalities. We’re looking for someone who can use GIS and write code. Specifically, you will be obtaining and preparing large spatial datasets, manipulating them in GIS, writing project specific code in a general purpose programming language, preferably Python or R, and carrying out research examining relationships between environment and population health. This job requires the ability to create and code innovative solutions to data handling and data analysis problems. Plenty of chances to contribute to publications and grant applications too. No need to have a PhD – we’re more interested in your skills…. 

More details, including how to apply, how much you could get paid etc here.

The closing date for applications is 22nd October.

Rich Mitchell would be delighted to discuss the post with you.

 

 Main Duties and Responsibilities

Perform the following activities in conjunction with and under the guidance of the Principal Investigator (PI):

1. Plan and conduct assigned research into environment and health, individually or jointly in accordance with the programme’s development strategy.

2. Contribute to the development and implementation of new methods and approaches to understanding how neighbourhood environments do, and might, affect health.

3. Develop, test and implement custom scripts/code to enable the handling and analysis of large spatial datasets.

4. Document research output including analysis and interpretation of all data, maintaining records and managing databases, drafting technical/progress reports and papers as appropriate.

5. Contribute to the organisation, supervision, mentoring and training of undergraduate and/or postgraduate students and less experienced members of staff of the project team to ensure their effective development.

6. Develop and enhance your research profile and reputation and that of The University of Glasgow, SPHSU and Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme, including contributing to publications of international quality in high profile/quality refereed journals, enhancing the research impact in terms of economic/societal benefit, and gathering indicators of esteem.

7. Contribute to the presentation of work at international and national conferences, at internal and external seminars, colloquia and workshops to develop and enhance our research profile.

8. Contribute to the identification of potential funding sources and assist in the development of proposals to secure funding from internal and external bodies to support future research.

9. Collaborate with colleagues and participate in team/group meetings/seminars/workshops across SPHSU/Institute of Health and Wellbeing/ University and wider community (e.g academic partners).

10. Perform administrative tasks related to the activities of the research group including budgets/expenditure.

11. Contribute to outreach activities of the University of Glasgow.

12. Carry out modest teaching activities (e.g demonstrating etc) and associated administration as assigned by the Directors of cognate Research Institutes and in consultation with Principal Investigators.

13. Keep up to date with current knowledge and recent advances in the field/discipline.

14. Engage in personal, professional and career development to enhance both specialist and transferable skills in accordance with desired career trajectory.

15. Undertake any other duties of equivalent standing as assigned by Directors of cognate Research Institutes and/or PIs.15. Contribute to the enhancement of the University’s International profile in line with the Strategic Plan, Glasgow 2020 – A Global Vision.

Salary Range£28,098 – £31,604 per annum

To Understand Place, Sometimes You Need to Go Places

By Jon Olsen

I recently spent a week as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at the Built Environment and Health (BEH) research group at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

My visit was funded by the University of Glasgow’s Principal’s Early Career Mobility Scheme, a scheme which aims to give the opportunity for postdoctoral researchers to visit international institutions, providing the time and space to develop high-impact collaboration with staff there.

I organised the visit and developed a proposal on how I would spend my time at Columbia with Kathryn Neckerman, a senior research scientist at the Columbia Population Research Centre and co-director of BEH. Now I am back, it’s time to reflect.

Why is international research collaboration important?

Improving population health and well-being is a focus of Governments and health organisations globally and, while there is continued focus and resource, poor health and inequalities remain. This is partly because improving health and well-being, and reducing inequalities is complex and requires complex solutions. Professor David Hunter in an article in the Journal of Public Health describes improving health and well-being as a ‘wicked problem’. A ‘Wicked’ issue in the sense these problems “defy easy or single bullet solutions” and “have complex causes and require complex solutions”. Collaboration is vital to bring together ideas and resources to tackle complex problems.

An article on international research collaboration in Elsevier connect, following the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in Melbourne in 2015, stated that “researchers collaborate to share their knowledge and combine the perspectives they have to solve complex problems that are increasingly cross-disciplinary in nature”. It argued that international collaboration provides many benefits, including “enabling researchers in institutions to access resources beyond their own, especially funding, talent and equipment”.

Furthermore, the article suggested that regional universities could collaborate when research is centred on a common regional challenge. However, there are further opportunities for international collaboration and learning, such as where research themes and methodologies are overlapping. All this potential was in mind as I travelled to Columbia University and I was able to explore this through my visit to BEH. For me, the question was how could the similarities that exist in Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and in New York benefit research and help further understand complex problems.

Neighbourhood and Health research themes in Glasgow and New York

The BEH research group has an interdisciplinary programme of research which uses spatial data to examine the impact of the built environment (including land use, public transit, and housing) on physical activity, diet, obesity, and other aspects of health. The group’s research themes have many parallels to ours in the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), University of Glasgow, and at the Centre for Research on the Environment, Society and Health (CRESH). We all seek to understand how neighbourhood environments impact upon health outcomes and health inequalities.

For example, researchers at SPHSU and CRESH have recently described an association between alcohol and tobacco outlet density across Scotland and area level deprivation such that the poorest neighbourhoods had the highest densities of outlet. However, this is a complex issue as highlighted by a Glasgow based study conducted at SPHSU, ‘The socio-spatial distribution of alcohol outlets in Glasgow city’, which did not find the same association. My colleague Laura Macdonald’s recent paper described that perceptions of being well-placed for amenities and the presence of amenities in the local neighbourhood were not necessarily correlated.

In New York, BEH group have recently developed a tool that allows the automated auditing of neighbourhood environments using Google Street View. This project developed a system called the ‘Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System’ (CANVAS), to conduct Street View based audits of neighbourhoods. The software developed can be used for neighbourhood audits conducted at a desktop computer for a much lower cost than sending out trained auditors to survey the neighbourhood.

CANVAS creates opportunities a richer understanding of neighbourhood environments than using only the geographical location of amenities or outlets. This could include an understanding of visual stimuli in the neighbourhood on individual behavioural choices, such as advertising of health/fast foods, whether amenities and outlets are visible to individuals travelling along streets, and changes in this over time. Approaches like CANVAS could bring advances in our field which often currently assumes that proximity to facilities is the primary mediator in access. As our research has shown, perception and presence of amenities are not necessarily correlated.

Our programme has recently completed data collection for the Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments across Scotland (SPACES) study. The SPACES study is the first national representative study in Scotland to collect both Global Positioning System (GPS) and accelerometer (i.e. movement) data of over 800 children, 10-11 years old. Indeed, a study I am currently leading utilises the SPACES dataset to describe children’s patterns of movement within the landscape and how this may be affected by the surrounding neighbourhoods in terms of its makeup, size, shape and proximity to each other. Paul McCrorie and colleagues’ review the use of such devices to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people highlighted that describing people’s movement in time and space is a field which is advancing rapidly, driven by the advancements in wearable technologies that collect GPS data. But this also means that it’s imperative we understand and develop the methodological options for analysing the gathered data to ensure robust and generalizable conclusions.

The Potential of Collaboration

Spending time with BEH, I could more readily see that the two programmes share a clear focus to establish a grounded and robust methodological framework for describing patterns of movement and environmental exposures in neighbourhoods.

It was this first-hand opportunity to share learning both from the analysis of our studies and our approaches which can, I believe, lead to better collaboration. Modern technology is great for communication, but direct dialogue and the time and space to be with potential colleagues in their environment can perhaps offer richer experience than a scheduled video-conference or a meeting of minds at a conference, (valuable as those are).

For example, last year the BEH group published a study using GPS data to study neighborhood walkability and physical activity’ in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. This measured the size and characteristics of residential neighbourhood areas utilised, and those not utilised, by people in New York City. I was able to discuss this with the lead author, Andrew Rundle, who is also co-director of BEH, during my visit and the strengths and limitations of different geospatial analytical and statistical techniques for neighbourhood GPS studies, which I also picked up with Stephen Mooney while I was there.

I am now continuing to explore ideas around methodological development and carrying on these discussions. International travel schemes are invaluable. It is important to step outside of your own research group to gain a wider academic perspective of world-leading research. Although my visit to BEH was not about collaboraton in the sense of producing a research paper or grant, it allowed us to share practice, knowledge and ideas.

Of course, embracing an international spirit also means following the ‘when in Rome’ philosophy, so before I left, as a keen runner, I also made time to tread some miles amongst the amazing New York scenery. And as a geographer interested in spatial epidemiology, and like other geographers, I track all my runs using GPS! I have included the routes for those who might want to check them out: Two Bridges, Lower Manhattan to Battery Park, and a foggy 5k across the Manhattan Bridge.

 

 

Being a Scout or Guide protects mental health and narrows inequalities in later life

By Rich Mitchell and Chris Dibben

beaver-scouts-plant-trees-for-their-gardener-badge-pic-credit-the-scout-association
Today, with colleagues from the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland at Edinburgh University, we have published a study
which found that being in the Guides or Scouts as a child seems to protect your mental health long into adulthood. Those who were in the Guides or Scouts were about 18% less likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder at age 50, than those who were not. This protective link seems especially strong for children who grew up in less advantaged households, so much so that the usual ‘gap’ in mental health between those from richer and poorer backgrounds does not exist among those who were Scouts or Guides. Continue reading Being a Scout or Guide protects mental health and narrows inequalities in later life

The impact of a motorway extension in Glasgow on road traffic accidents

Funded by the NIHR PHR Programme

A new study published by Dr Jon Olsen at CRESH and colleagues at CEDAR in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health evaluated the impact of the 5-mile M74 motorway extension on road accidents that resulted in a casualty. The study found that it had no impact on the already decreasing trend of road accidents in the area. Continue reading The impact of a motorway extension in Glasgow on road traffic accidents

Job available: research associate, looking at impacts of woodlands on health

The CRESH team have a new post available. We’re looking for a quantitative researcher to work with us, and our colleagues at OPENspace, on a project looking at the impact of woodland improvement on community health. You can read more about the project in our protocol paper.

The job will be based in Glasgow and has funding until the 31 March 2017. The closing date for applications is 27 March 2016.

Continue reading Job available: research associate, looking at impacts of woodlands on health