Perceived social support reduces young adults’ risk for mental health problems

Young adults with perceived higher levels of social support were at lower risk for mental health problems 1 year later, according to results of a population-based cohort study published in JAMA Network Open.

“Previous research found that social support is protective for depression, yet the literature is scarce for other mental health outcomes,” Marie-Claude Geoffroy, PhD, of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Canada, told Healio Psychiatry. “Most studies did not investigate the protective role in young adults and did not consider previous mental health problems as a factor that could impact levels of perceived levels of support. Our study advances the field by showing that even in cases where people previously experienced mental health problems, social support was beneficial for mental health later on.”

The investigators sought to determine whether social support in emerging adulthood served as a protective factor against later depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts after adjusting for numerous confounders, such as prior mental health problems and family characteristics. They analyzed data of 1,174 participants of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development who underwent annual or biennial assessment starting from age 5 months to 20 years. Geoffroy and colleagues used the 10-item Social Provision Scale to collect data on participants’ self-reported perceived social support at age 19 years. Further, they measured participants’ mental health problems, including depressive and anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation and attempts, at age 20 years.

Results showed fewer reported mental health problems 1 year later among emerging adults who had higher levels of perceived social support at age 19 years, even after adjusting for numerous mental health problems at ages 15 and 17 years and family characteristics. The researchers noted an association between higher perceived social support and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moreover, higher perceived social support was linked to lower risk for suicide-related outcomes.

“Our results point to the potential benefits of promoting and leveraging social support as a means to protect the mental health of young adults, even in individuals that experienced mental health problems at an earlier life stage in development,” Geoffroy said. “This is important because ‘social support’ is already accessible within the community and it is free (for example, university support groups, talking with friends and family).”


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