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Are residents of downtown Toronto influenced by their urban neighbourhoods? Using concept mapping to examine neighbourhood characteristics and their perceived impact on self-rated mental well-being

Amanda J Sheppard12*, Christina Salmon13, Priya Balasubramaniam4, Janet Parsons56, Gita Singh7, Amina Jabbar1, Qamar Zaidi1, Allison Scott1, Rosane Nisenbaum18, Jim Dunn18, Jason Ramsay9, Nasim Haque1 and Patricia O’Campo18

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Research on Inner City Health, Keenan Research Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, 30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1W8, Canada

2 AboutKidsHealth, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X8, Canada

3 Neurorehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Toronto, Canada

4 FutureHealth Inc., Toronto, Canada

5 Applied Health Research Centre, Keenan Research Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada

6 Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

7 Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Markham-Stouffville Hospital, Toronto, Canada

8 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

9 Department of Social Sciences, Health Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, Canada

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2012, 11:31  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-11-31

Published: 3 August 2012



There is ample evidence that residential neighbourhoods can influence mental well-being (MWB), with most studies relying on census or similar data to characterize communities. Few studies have actively investigated local residents’ perceptions.


Concept mapping was conducted with residents from five Toronto neighbourhoods representing low income and non-low income socio-economic groups. These residents participated in small groups and attended two sessions per neighbourhood. The first session (brainstorming) generated neighbourhood characteristics that residents felt influenced their MWB. A few weeks later, participants returned to sort these neighbourhood characteristics and rate their relative importance in affecting residents’ ‘good’ and ‘poor’ MWB. The data from the sorting and rating groups were analyzed to generate conceptual maps of neighbourhood characteristics that influence MWB.


While agreement existed on factors influencing poor MWB (regardless of neighbourhood, income, gender and age), perceptions related to factors affecting good MWB were more varied. For example, women were more likely to rank physical beauty of their neighbourhood and range of services available as more important to good MWB, while men were more likely to cite free access to computers/internet and neighbourhood reputation as important. Low-income residents emphasized aesthetic attributes and public transportation as important to good MWB, while non-low-income residents rated crime, negative neighbourhood environment and social concerns as more important contributors to good MWB.


These findings contribute to the emerging literature on neighbourhoods and MWB, and inform urban planning in a Canadian context.

Mental well-being; Neighbourhoods; Concept mapping; Qualitative methods