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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Associations between residence at birth and mental health disorders: a spatial analysis of retrospective cohort data

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Kate Hoffman, Ann Aschengrau, Thomas F. Webster, Scott M. Bartell, Verónica M. Vieira
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

KH conducted the analyses and drafted the manuscript. AA conceived the parent study design, coordinated data collection, and contributed to the manuscript preparation. TW and SB provided epidemiologic expertise and contributed to manuscript preparation. VV conceived of the spatial analyses, provided technical input to the analyses, and contributed to manuscript preparation. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Mental health disorders impact approximately one in four US adults. While their causes are likely multifactorial, prior research has linked the risk of certain mental health disorders to prenatal and early childhood environmental exposures, motivating a spatial analysis to determine whether risk varies by birth location.


We investigated the spatial associations between residence at birth and odds of depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a retrospective cohort (Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1969–1983) using generalized additive models to simultaneously smooth location and adjust for confounders. Birth location served as a surrogate for prenatal exposure to the combination of social and environmental factors related to the development of mental illness. We predicted crude and adjusted odds ratios (aOR) for each outcome across the study area. The results were mapped to identify areas of increased risk.


We observed spatial variation in the crude odds ratios of depression that was still present even after accounting for spatial confounding due to geographic differences in the distribution of known risk factors (aOR range: 0.61–3.07, P = 0.03). Similar geographic patterns were seen for the crude odds of PTSD; however, these patterns were no longer present in the adjusted analysis (aOR range: 0.49–1.36, P = 0.79), with family history of mental illness most notably influencing the geographic patterns. Analyses of the odds of bipolar disorder did not show any meaningful spatial variation (aOR range: 0.58–1.17, P = 0.82).


Spatial associations exist between residence at birth and odds of PTSD and depression, but much of this variation can be explained by the geographic distributions of available risk factors. However, these risk factors did not account for all the variation observed with depression, suggesting that other social and environmental factors within our study area need further investigation.
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