Quality and Quantity of Social Support Show Differential Associations With Stress and Depression in African Americans

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Social support (SS) is typically associated with lower emotional distress (e.g., stress
and depression) in individuals. However, SS is a multifaceted construct that can vary
by quality, quantity (amount), and type (i.e., it can be emotional or instrumental
in nature).

Objective

The current study examined the relationships between characteristics of SS, stress,
and depression in aging African Americans.

Participants

Analyses focused on data from 705 participants aged 22–92 years from the Carolina
African American Twin Study of Aging.

Measurements

Measures included the quality and quantity of emotional and instrumental support received,
as well as stress and depression.

Design

A series of univariate and increasingly complex multivariate regression models were
conducted in MPlus (using the cluster option to control for family structure) to examine
the relationships between SS and emotional distress variables.

Results

Overall, better quality of emotional SS predicted fewer depression symptoms and less
perceived stress, after controlling for age, gender, socioeconomic status variables,
and the other subtypes of SS. However, more instances of emotional SS were associated
with higher levels of perceived stress, depression symptoms, and more stressful life
events within the past year. Likewise, more instrumental SS predicted more perceived
stress, while holding the other variables constant.

Conclusion

African Americans who experience more emotional distress report more SS, but the quality
of emotional support appears to play an important role in the association between
reduced levels of stress and depression. These findings suggest that interventions
should include approaches to reduce emotional distress as well as enhance the quality
SS.

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