Background: Social support may be particularly important in countering depression among systematically disadvantaged groups. Latino immigrants are an example of a disadvantaged population that has better than expected mental health outcomes. One explanation put forth for this pattern is strong social support from kin networks. Studies on the effect of social support on mental health often assess the quantity of social ties, rather than the quality of the support they provide. In addition, such studies rarely specify the source of support and how support from family vs. friends may differentially impact mental health.
Methods: We used data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods to disaggregate the effects of source-specific emotional support on risk of depression. Second, we examined the relationship between ethnicity/nativity status and risk of depression. Finally, we explored whether the relationship between family-based and friend-based social support and depression differed across ethnic/nativity status.
Results: Support from both family and friends had protective effects on risk of depression, but when mutually adjusted only kin support remained statistically significant. At higher levels of family support, foreign-born Mexicans and Blacks had decreased risk of depression than at low levels of family support.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence that family support may be more important than non-kin support for mental health. Findings also suggest that the effects of family support on risk of depression vary by ethnicity and nativity status. Preservation of naturally occurring support resources among some groups may be a way to maintain mental health.
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