, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 51-58

Friends, confidants and symptoms

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Brown, Bhrolchain & Harris (1975) have found that intimate social relationship may afford some protection against the onset of depressive illness in women. Our investigation involved 337 subjects sampled from the list of one general practice. Half had consulted their doctor within the previous 7 days and half had not. It examined the association between social support and the severity of some psychological and physical symptoms. The psychological symptoms were tiredness, anxiety, depression and irritability; and the physical symptoms were backache, headache, palpitations, dizziness and breathlessness. Social support and symptoms were assessed in a home interview. The results supported those of Brown et al. in showing that women reporting the lack of an intimate confidant had psychological symptoms of significantly greater severity than those reported by their more adequately supported counterparts. However, in contrast to Brown et al., we observed that the absence of many casual, less intimate friends was also associated with higher symptom levels (both physical and psychological). The discrepancy might arise because few of our subjects were suffering from severe psychiatric illness. The results were less clear for men but showed the same trends.

The authors are grateful to Doctors I. R. W. Alexander, M. Paterson and M. W. Whitley for their wholehearted support in this study.