Date: 02 Feb 2010

The Effect of Social Networks and Social Support on Mental Health Services Use, Following a Life Event, among the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Cohort

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The study examined the association between life events and mental health services use, accounting for social networks and social support. Main and stress-buffering effects were estimated using longitudinal data from the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area cohort (1,920 participants in 1993–1996, of whom 1,071 were re-interviewed in 2004–2005). Following a life event, the odds of using general medical services were increased by almost 50% when there was increased social support from spouse/partner (referral function). The odds of using mental health services within general health setup were reduced by 60% when there was increased support from relatives (stress-reduction function). Increased social support from friends and relatives was associated with a 40–60% decreased odds of using specialty psychiatric services after experiencing different life events (stress-reduction function). Overall, social support rather than social networks were more strongly associated with increased mental health service use following a life event. The implications for service delivery and program development are discussed.