Social Support and Mental Disorder in Old Age: Overview and Appraisal

  • H. O. F. Veiel
Conference paper


In recent years “social support” has become an increasingly important concept in social epidemiology and community psychology and psychiatry. The notion that social conditions and processes influence mental and physical well-being is an old one, however. At the end of the last century, Durkheim (1897) emphasized the connection between social alienation (“anomie”; cf. Merton 1938) and suicide, and social isolation came to be recognized as a major determinant of mental illness (e.g., Faris 1934; Jaco 1954; Leighton 1959). A more elaborate framework for the study of pathogenic influences of social structures was later provided by so-called network theory (e.g., Barnes 1972), which distinguished between different types of social connectedness. The concept of social support has emerged from these traditional areas of sociological research, and during the last 10 years it has assumed a prominent position in theories of mental illness. In contrast to the sociological concepts of “anomie” and “social network,” however, which were at least initially applied to social aggregates, the social support concept reflects a greater emphasis on individual conditions and needs, and on the adequacy of social relationships and transactions in fulfilling these needs. It is therefore not surprising, that, in addition to the approaches mentioned above, a number of other traditional areas of social research have influenced current thinking in the field. Attachment theory (cf. Bowlby 1969, 1973) and related approaches, for instance, have contributed a great deal to theoretical formulations on social support.


Mental Health Social Support Stressful Life Event Psychosocial Stress Functional Mental Disorder 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1986

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  • H. O. F. Veiel

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