Accelerating Best Practices in Peer Support Around the World

Social Isolation and Mental Health: The Role of Nondirective and Directive Social Support

Community Ment Health J. 2021 Mar 3. doi: 10.1007/s10597-021-00787-9. [Pubmed Abstract]

Evans M, Fisher EB


Social isolation is a powerful predictor of poor mental and physical health, while social support has been shown to be protective. The ways in which social support is provided may confer differential benefits. This research examines relationships among types of social support (nondirective, directive, emotional and instrumental), social isolation, and mental health outcomes (anxiety and depression) in a convenience sample of adults with common health problems recruited from all email accounts of a university. A survey distributed to a university-wide listserv that included faculty, staff, and students yielded an analyzable sample of 65. T-tests compared levels of anxiety and depression between socially isolated and non-socially isolated people. Regression models tested main effects of type of support as well as their interaction with social isolation. Levels of anxiety and depression were significantly higher among socially isolated people. When social support was factored in, the relationship between social isolation and anxiety was reduced, as was the relationship between social isolation and depression, suggesting that social support mediates these relationships. Furthermore, social isolation moderated relationships between some types of support and mental health outcomes. The association between greater nondirective emotional support and decreased anxiety was more pronounced among those who were socially isolated. Greater nondirective emotional support was significantly associated with decreased depression among socially isolated people, but the relationship was nonsignificant for those who were not socially isolated. Likewise, greater directive instrumental support was associated with lower depression only among those who were socially isolated. These results suggest that in addition to social support itself, the type of support may be important in reducing anxiety and depression among people who are socially isolated.

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