The coronavirus pandemic has stripped society of one of its core energy sources:
human interaction. As our social confinement drags on, mental health issues
inevitably arise. While prevalent across many age groups, these mental health
problems (MHPs) can be especially damaging to adolescents and young adults, who
learn and thrive in social environments.
One factor contributing to MHPs that has been explored in recent years is perceived
social support. Perceived social support refers to an individual's access to emotional
(e.g. empathy and compassion), informational (e.g. professional advice), and
instrumental (e.g. helping with basic tasks) help through social relationships.
A collaborative study conducted by psychiatric researchers in Canada last December
sought to determine if there is a correlation between perceived social support and
MHPs in adolescence and young adults. While previously published research suggests
that increased perceived social support is correlated with less MHPs, they did not
occur over a long period of time and did not take pre-existing MHPs into
consideration, unlike the Canadian study.
The study, which consisted of 1174 participants (48.89% Female and 51.11% Male)
from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, evaluated correlation of
perceived social support for three main MHP criteria: depressive symptoms, general
anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts). Using proven psychiatric
measurement techniques, including response forms in which participants
self-reported their symptoms on a numeric scale, researchers documented perceived
social support of participants at age 19 and MHPs experienced at age 20. In addition to
general MHP criteria, other influential factors were also collected at ages 15 and 17,
including sex, family socieconoimc status, parental education level and family
The study reported that for every 1 standard deviation increase in perceived social
support, suicidal ideation, severe depression and anxiety symptoms decreased by
41%, 47% and 22%, respectively. Additionally, fewer suicidal attempts were recorded.
Even when pre-existing MHPs were taken into consideration, researchers still
reported a negative correlation between perceived social support and MHPs.
While the findings did display natural variations between sex and did not account for
biases in the self-reported forms, it is the first known study on perceived social
support that evaluates participants across multiple years and uses a valid
pscyhiometric data collection tool.
These findings provide a solid foundation upon which more quantitative studies can
explore the magnitude of the effects of social support on MHPs. Such investigation
may also help identify any genetic and nonenvironmental factors that contribute to
the correlation. On a more individual level, research on social support in adolescents is
important in analyzing the mental health outcomes of young adults, whose newfound
responsibility and independence can increase their likelihood of MHPs.
Sara Scardera, B. (2020, December 04). Association of Social Support During
Adolescence With Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Ideation in Young Adults.