• Contrary to common notion, the Duke-NUS study found that social support has negative impact on mental health of the elderly.
• The findings suggest that caregivers and policy-makers have to be aware of both the negative and positive effects of social support.
A recent study conducted by Duke-NUS researchers suggests that social support from family and friends does not have an entirely positive effect on mental health but is instead a 'mixed blessing’.
The study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, by Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra and Shannon Ang from the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) at Duke-NUS, analysed data collected from surveys administered to 2,766 older adults aged 62 to 97 who are a part of the Panel of Health and Aging in Singaporean Elderly.
They found that receiving social support, such as money, food, clothing and housework help, reduced depressive symptoms among older individuals but at the same time made them feel like they had lost control over their lives.
This loss of control in turn increased their depressive symptoms, counteracting the positive effect of receiving social support. The study also found that women felt more loss of control, compared to men.
“While receiving social support may help older people feel a sense of belonging or enhance their relationship closeness with the provider, it can also impact them negatively because it reduces their sense of control over their own lives,” explained Mr Ang, Research Assistant at Duke-NUS.
These findings are contrary to the common notion that more social support is always good. They also suggest that for social support to improve the overall mental health of older adults, both caregivers and policy-makers have to be aware of its negative and positive effects.
“Our findings have implications for policy-makers because it points toward the importance of crafting policies and encouraging ways to provide support to older persons that can help them maintain their sense of control over their own lives,” said senior author Asst Prof Malhotra, Head of Research at CARE. “We need to think of ways in which we can help older adults without increasing their sense of dependence.”