Social Support a Factor in Mental Health Prevention and Treatment

Unrecognizable man comforts woman during a support group or group therapy meeting. His hand is on her shoulder.

Young adults who believe they have strong social support experience fewer problems later in life, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

While previous studies illustrate the importance of social support in preventing depressive symptoms in teens, few control for individuals with prior mental health issues. The researchers say that this study is the first that investigates “the association of perceived social support with a range of common mental health problems simultaneously within a contemporary population-based cohort of emerging adults (aged 19-20 years) while taking into account previous mental health problems and family characteristics to clarify the directionality of these associations.”

The study used participants from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, an ongoing population-based cohort that includes 2120 participants born from 1997 through 1998. Of the 20-year-old individuals contacts, 1,174 provided social support information.

Perceived social support was assessed using a 10-item Social Provision Scale. Depressive symptoms experienced during the past week were assessed using the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale, short form.

Young adults who perceived a higher level of social support reported fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms 1 year later, after adjustment for previous mental health problems. The associations are stronger for depressive symptoms (β = −0.23 [95% CI, −0.26 to −0.18]; P < .001) than anxiety (β = −0.10 [95% CI −0.15 to −0.04]; P <.001).

Generally, every increase in social support lowered the odds for severe depression and anxiety, the researchers reported.

Limitation of the study include attrition among the most vulnerable individuals, including participants with low socioeconomic status and those with stronger symptoms at 29 months.

“This study raises awareness of the potential protective role of perceived social support for mental health during emerging adulthood and provides evidence for the importance of leveraging social support in treatment options while taking into consideration perceptions of support.”


Scardera S, Perret LC, Ouellet-Morin I, et al. Association of social support during adolescence with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in young adults. JAMA Netw Open. Published online December 4, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.27491