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Home Is Where You Hang Your Hat: Host Town Identity, But Not Hometown Identity, Protects Against Mental Health Symptoms Associated with Financial Stress

Debt and financial insecurity are associated with stress, low self-worth, and poor health. Joining and identifying with social groups (social identification) promotes better health and higher self-esteem. Here, we examined whether identifying with one's local neighborhood protected people from developing mental health symptoms associated with financial stress. We analyzed data from a general population survey (Study 1, N = 4319) and a student mental health survey (Study 2, N = 612) conducted in the North West of England. We administered measures of financial stress, self-esteem, neighborhood identity, and mental health, and conducted moderated mediation analyses to test our predictions. Study 1 (population survey) demonstrated that stronger identification with one's local neighborhood attenuated the adverse effects of financial stress on self-esteem and subsequent mental health. Study 2 (student survey) showed that strong host town identities buffered students from mental health symptoms related to financial stress. Strong hometown identities, however, showed no buffering effect. The findings suggest that one way financial stress impacts mental health is by eroding self-esteem. Identifying with one's current place of residence appears to disrupt this pathway, while identifying with one's previous place of residence does not provide the same psychological protection.

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