The last decade has seen a lot of research into the links between social capital and mental health. Social capital is a measure of the community spirit of a neighbourhood and looks at things like community activities, electoral turn out and levels of voluntary work. Most of these studies have focused on adults and very few have looked into the relationship between social capital and children and adolescents' mental health. A study of 3,340 11-16 year-olds spread out over 426 different postcodes collected information on the health and socio-economic status of the children, measures of social capital and neighbourhood prosperity and how safe the children felt in their neighbourhood and how trustworthy they felt people in their area were. The researchers found that the less safe the children felt and the less trustworthy they perceived their neighbours to be the more likely they were to suffer from mental-health problems and that this perception was more important than the socio-economic nature of the neighbourhood. However, there was no link between children's actual behaviour, e.g. going to the park or the shops on their own, and their levels of mental-health problems.
Meltzer, Howard ... [et al] - Children's perceptions of neighbourhood trustworthiness and safety and their mental health Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry December 2007, 48(12), 1208-1213