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Social Support and Psychiatric Symptoms

Social networks, social support and psychiatric symptoms: social determinants and associations within a multicultural community population (2015)

N. Smyth, C. Siriwardhana, M. Hotopf and S. Hatch



Little is known about how social networks and social support are distributed within diverse communities and how different types of each are associated with a range of psychiatric symptoms. This study aims to address such shortcomings by: (1) describing the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of social networks and social support in a multicultural population and (2) examining how each is associated with multiple mental health outcomes.

How was the study conducted?

Data is drawn from the South East London Community Health Study; a cross-sectional study of 1,698 adults conducted between 2008 and 2010.

What did we find?

The findings demonstrate variation in social networks and social support by socio-demographic factors. Ethnic minority groups reported larger family networks but less perceived instrumental support. Older individuals and migrant groups reported lower levels of particular network and support types. Individuals from lower socioeconomic groups tended to report less social networks and support across the indicators measured. Perceived emotional and instrumental support, family and friend network size emerged as protective factors for common mental disorder, personality dysfunction and psychotic experiences. In contrast, both social networks and social support appear less relevant for hazardous alcohol use.


The findings both confirm established knowledge that social networks and social support exert differential effects on mental health and furthermore suggest that the particular type of social support may be important. In contrast, different types of social network appear to impact upon poor mental health in a more uniform way. Future psychosocial strategies promoting mental health should consider which social groups are vulnerable to reduced social networks and poor social support and which diagnostic groups may benefit most.


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