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Social support promotes better mental health

Individuals with strong social support have a lower risk of mental health issues. Researchers at McGill University have found that the presence and awareness of social support can provide protection against depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. 

In particular, the findings indicate that young adults at the age of 19 who perceived higher levels of social support, or the feeling that there is someone who they can depend on for help if they need it, showed lower levels of depression and anxiety symptoms one year later.

Study lead author Marie-Claude Geoffroy is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill and holds the Canada Research Chair in Youth Suicide Prevention.

“Our study shows that even in cases where people previously experienced mental health problems, social support was beneficial for mental health later on,” said Professor Geoffroy. 

“We discovered potential benefits of promoting and leveraging social support as a means to protect the mental health of young adults, even in individuals who experienced mental health problems at an earlier developmental stage in life. That social support is not only beneficial for depression, but for other salient mental health outcomes as well.”

The investigation was focused on data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study on Child Development, which followed over 1,000 participants since their birth in 1997 and 1998. The researchers analyzed levels of perceived social support at the onset of adulthood.

The study revealed that individuals who experienced greater levels of social support experienced 47 percent less severe depression and 22 percent less anxiety. The researchers also found that those who reported higher levels of perceived social support had a 40-percent reduced risk of experiencing suicidal ideation and attempts.

“Our study was conducted before the current COVID-19 pandemic, so we do not know whether our results will apply in the current context,” said study co-author Sara Scardera. “However, in a ‘normal’ context, youth who perceived that they had someone to rely on reported better mental health outcomes. We believe that it is beneficial to offer help to those in need, and to make sure your friends know that they can count on you.”

The study is published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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