, Volume 78, Issue 3, pp 458-467

Social ties and mental health

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Abstract

It is generally agreed that social ties play a beneficial role in the maintenance of psychological well-being. In this targeted review, we highlight four sets of insights that emerge from the literature on social ties and mental health outcomes (defined as stress reactions, psychological well-being, and psychological distress, including depressive symptoms and anxiety). First, the pathways by which social networks and social supports influence mental health can be described by two alternative (although not mutually exclusive) causal models—the main effect model and the stress-buffering model. Second, the protective effects of social ties on mental health are not uniform across groups in society. Gender differences in support derived from social network participation may partly account for the higher prevalence of psychological distress among women compared to men. Social connections may paradoxically increase levels of mental illness symptoms among women with low resources, especially if such connections entail role strain associated with obligations to provide social support to others. Third, egocentric networks are nested within a broader structure of social relationships. The notion of social capital embraces the embeddedness of individual social ties within the broader social structure. Fourth, despite some successes reported in social support interventions to enhance mental health, further work is needed to deepen our understanding of the design, timing, and dose of interventions that work, as well as the characteristics of individuals who benefit the most.