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The influence of social support on ethnic differences in well-being and depression in adolescents: findings from the prospective Olympic Regeneration in East London (ORiEL) study

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This study examines the extent to which in adolescent positive mental well-being and depressive symptoms vary across ethnic groups, and prospectively examines whether social support is protective against low/poor well-being and depression.


A longitudinal survey of 2426 adolescents from the Olympic Regeneration in East London study measured well-being and depressive symptoms at baseline at ages 11–12 and at follow-up two years later at ages 13–14. Social support was assessed at ages 11–12 years by the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, by the level of parental support for school, by the frequency of family activities and by friendship choices. Ethnic differences in well-being and depression in Bangladeshi (N = 337) and Black African (N = 249) adolescents compared to their White UK counterparts (N = 380) were estimated adjusted stepwise for socio-demographic factors and domains of social support.


Black African and Bangladeshi adolescents scored significantly higher for well-being than their White UK counterparts. There were no significant ethnic differences in the prevalence of depressive symptoms. Lower levels of social support were prospectively associated with lower well-being and higher rates of depression in all ethnic groups. Adjustment for multiple domains of social support did not account for ethnic differences in well-being.


Bangladeshi and Black African adolescents in East London may have a positive mental health advantage over their White UK counterparts though social support did not fully explain this difference. Further investigation of the reasons for lower well-being in the White UK group is needed.

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NS designed and conducted the analysis and drafted the manuscript. MS conducted the data imputation. CC, SC and SS contributed to critical revisions of the manuscript. The ORiEL study ( is funded by the NIHR Public Health Research Programme (Grant number: 09/3005/09). SC is supported by a United Kingdom National Institute of Health Research Senior Fellowship. The authors had ultimate authority over study design; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of data; writing of the report; and the decision to submit the report for publication. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the funder (National Institute for Health Research).

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Correspondence to Neil R. Smith.

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The study has approval from Queen Mary University of London Ethics Committee (QMREC2011/40), the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (RGE110927) and the London Boroughs Research Governance Framework (CERGF113). Parent/carer consent for their child’s participation was obtained passively 1 week prior to the survey visit. Adolescents provided their written assent immediately before completing their questionnaire and were presented with the opportunity to opt out at any time.

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Smith, N.R., Clark, C., Smuk, M. et al. The influence of social support on ethnic differences in well-being and depression in adolescents: findings from the prospective Olympic Regeneration in East London (ORiEL) study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50, 1701–1711 (2015).

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