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Research Summaries

Mental health and social support

Keywords: Depression, PTSD, Social Support

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Why was the study done?

Social support is important to a person’s mental health. The relationship between social support and mental health appears to exist even if there is only perceived support not actual social support. Social support may be an important protective factor in maintaining good mental health and in promoting individual resilience.

Public safety personnel (PSP) are exposed to potentially traumatic situations that can impact their mental health. No previous research has been done on the relationship between mental health outcomes and social support across all PSP categories.

The current study aims to determine if perceived social support is related to rates of major depressive disorder (MDD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as measured through self-reported symptoms in a diverse group of PSP.

What was done in the study?

PSP recruited through their employers, organizations, or public announcements participated in an online survey assessing mental health symptoms. The 4238 participants reviewed in this study completed the life events checklist (which lists events that may lead to distress or PTSD), a PTSD and MDD self-report measure, and the social provisions scale (which measures perceived social support). The participants were divided into six PSP groups (communications, corrections, firefighters, paramedics, municipal/provincial police, and RCMP) so that comparisons could be made between the groups.

What did we find out?

  • RCMP participants reported lower levels of perceived social support than the other PSP participants.
  • For each PSP group, except communications, higher perceived social support was related to lower odds of self-reported PTSD symptoms.
  • For all PSP, higher perceived social support was related to lower odds of self-reported MDD symptoms.
  • For each one-point increase in perceived social support, PSP groups excluding communications, were 7-10% less likely to report PTSD symptoms and all groups were 11-15% less likely to report MDD symptoms.

Where do we go from here?

Surveys of this nature cannot determine the cause of the relationship between social support and mental health. Because of the differences between PSP groups, further research into the effects of organizational differences on perceived social support is recommended. What this study, with its large sample size, indicates is that efforts to increase perceived social support may help to increase resilience and improve PSP mental health. Some options to help increase social support are formal peer-support programs, therapeutic interventions, and increasing interactions with family and friends.

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The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.

Original Study

Vig, K.D., Mason, J.E., Carleton, R.N., Asmundson, G.J.G., Anderson, G.S., & Groll, D. (2020). Mental health and social support among public safety personnel. Occupational Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa129

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed & edited by Barootes, B. & Vig, K.D.

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