PHIRN: Population Health Improvement Research Network

The Role of Social Support in Reducing Psychological Distress

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Canadian Population Health Initiative (CPHI) - Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI)

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada - March 2012

Available online at:

"......Psychological distress is a negative state of mental health that affects many Canadians, both directly and indirectly, over their lifetime through connections with other adverse mental and physical health conditions.

At any given point, an estimated one in five Canadians is likely to experience elevated levels of psychological distress.

Social support has been shown to be a consistent protective factor for populations with high distress. However, evidence on the role of the structure and functions of social support in reducing distress is lacking. This analysis, based on National Population Health Survey data spanning a decade, examines structures and functions of social support as drivers of reductions in psychological distress.

  • The relationship between support and improvements in distress two years later was different for women and men.
  • Women who reported regular opportunities to interact and talk with people were significantly more likely to report a reduction in distress than women who didn't feel that they had those supports—a difference not found among men.
  • For men in states of high distress, the structure of relationships was important in improvements—for every formerly married man whose distress improved, nearly two married men improved. Being married was not protective for women.

Examples of interventions that can influence distress and other mental health issues through social support–related activities are provided. Some successful approaches focus on individuals' skills at relating, while others provide opportunities for interaction. In some cases, interventions can be integrated with existing health services.

Understanding population differences in the role of both, social support structures and functions for mental health has implications for shaping information collection and monitoring efforts, as well as for the design, implementation and evaluation of programs to promote mental health....."

"....While the focus of this study was on the role of social support in improvements in distress, the analysis also considered the role of other social determinants of health that have been identified in the literature as related to current distress or the onset of distress, to explore their relationship to improvements in psychological distress..."


Source: PAHO/WHO

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 21 March 2012 10:57 )  

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