Mental health and rural communities: prevalence of psychopathology among children and preadolescents in a mountainous area of Italy

Alessio Gori 1, Marco Giannini 1, Eleonora Topino 2, Marco Cacioppo 2, Giulia Palmieri 3, Elena De Sanctis 3, Yura Loscalzo 1, Catia Burgassi 4, Cristiana Manzi 4, Paola Giovannelli 4, Giulio Morganti 4, Mauro Camuffo 4, Giuseppe Craparo 5

1 Department of Health Sciences, University of Florence, Florence, Italy; 2 Department of Human Sciences, LUMSA University of Rome, Rome, Italy; 3 University of Florence, Florence, Italy; 4 AUSL Toscana Sud-Est (ex AUSL 9 Grosseto), Grosseto, Italy; 5 University of Enna “Kore”, Enna, Italy

Objective

There is substantial evidence of an increase in depression and other psychopathological aspects during adolescence, and this phenomenon is even more evident in rural contexts. Considering the predictive role that emotional disorders in youth could have on future mental health, this study aims to investigate differences in psychopathology between a group of children and pre-adolescent resident in a rural context (Amiata, Italy) and a homogeneous group by age of non-resident in a mountainous area. 

Methods

This study involved teachers and parents for the assessment of 510 children and preadolescents (49.8% male, 50.2% female; Mean age = 8.44; SD = 1.44) from the rural context, and a normative sample of 1201 urban youth. Regarding the latter, the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores reported in the Achenbach manual in its Italian edition were considered, while for the “rural” sample, a group of parents and teachers children living in Amiata (Italy) completed respectively the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and Teacher’s Report-Form (TRF) scales. 

Results

Firstly, results showed a good correlation between CBCL and TRF scales, indicating consistency in the parents’ and teachers’ detection of rural youth problems. Compared to the normative sample the group of residents in the mountainous area got higher scores on some of the CBCL scales, especially with regards to Social Problems, Cognitive Problems and Somatic Complaints. Finally, the Amiata girls obtained a lower total score on TRF and CBCL syndrome scales, and, in parallel, better academic competence that could be considered as a protective factor.

Conclusions

The comparisons of parents’ reports with reports by others, such as teachers, seemed to be helpful for assessing the consistency of problems on syndromes such as anxiety/depression, somatic complaints, and attention problems to document the need for medical assessment or referral for mental health services. Specifically, the findings of this study suggest that subjects residing in the mountainous area tended to adopt fewer externalizing behaviors and they had more inner-directed disorders, especially somatic complaints: some aspects of youth psychopathological features can be influenced by a rural context of life. Therefore, the research analyzes the psychopathological features of children and pre-adolescents living in a rural environment (Amiata, Italy), highlighting important elements on which it may be important to intervene therapeutically to prevent the rural adolescent disorders, well documented by the Scientific literature.

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