Social support comes from relationships with family and friends. Social support includes emotional support or empathy and practical help or advice (1). Social networks are the size and structure of social contacts and relationships (1).
Risk and/or Protective Factor
Both social support and social networks have been linked to mental health outcomes.
Social support is a protective factor for mental health as social networks foster effective coping strategies, resilience and counteracts loneliness (2–4).
Not having enough social support can result in feelings of social isolation or loneliness. Small social networks and low social interaction have been associated with increased risk of depression and suicide (5,6). However, the quality of social networks also affects mental health. Toxic, destructive relationships have been associated with loneliness and decreased self-esteem (7).
Perceived social support can also affect outcomes and recovery of mental health difficulties. For example, people with depression who perceive their social support as low have been suggested to have increased symptoms and slower recovery (8).
1. Wills TA, Fegan MF. Social networks and social support. In: Baum A, Revenson TA, Singer JE, editors. Handbook of Health Psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 2001. p. 203–234.
2. Holahan CJ, Moos RH, Holahan CK, Brennan PL. Social support, coping, and depressive symptoms in a late-middle-aged sample of patients reporting cardiac illness. Heal Psychol [Internet]. 1995 [cited 2021 Feb 1];14(2):152–63. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7789351/
3. Ozbay F, Johnson DC, Dimoulas E, Morgan CA, Charney D, Southwick S. Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont) [Internet]. 2007 May [cited 2021 Jan 25];4(5):35–40. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20806028
4. Bisschop MI, Kriegsman DMW, Beekman ATF, Deeg DJH. Chronic diseases and depression: The modifying role of psychosocial resources. Soc Sci Med [Internet]. 2004 Aug [cited 2021 Feb 1];59(4):721–33. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15177830/
5. Cacioppo JT, Hughes ME, Waite LJ, Hawkley LC, Thisted RA. Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Psychol Aging [Internet]. 2006 Mar [cited 2021 Feb 15];21(1):140–51. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16594799/
6. O’Connell H, Chin AV, Cunningham C, Lawlor BA. Recent developments: Suicide in older people [Internet]. Vol. 329, British Medical Journal. BMJ Publishing Group; 2004 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. p. 895–9. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/
7. Crystal Raypole. In a Toxic Friendship? Here’s What to Look For (and How to Handle It) [Internet]. Vol. 8, Healthline. Wiley-Blackwell; 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/toxic-friendships#effects-on-you
8. Wang J, Mann F, Lloyd-Evans B, Ma R, Johnson S. Associations between loneliness and perceived social support and outcomes of mental health problems: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry [Internet]. 2018 May 29 [cited 2021 Jan 25];18(1):156. Available from: https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1736-5