Can Social Support by Family and Friends Have Negative Impact on Loved Ones? YES

Can Social Support by Family and Friends Have Negative Impact on Loved Ones? YES

A recent study conducted by Duke-NUS Medical School (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’.

While some studies have shown that receiving social support can help to improve the mental health of a person, others have found that the receipt of social support may have no effect or even a negative effect on one’s mental health. Past research has not clearly demonstrated the reasons for this ambiguity.

This Duke study analyzed data collected from surveys administered to 2766 older adults aged 62 to 97 who are a part of the Panel of Health and Aging in Singaporean Elderly (PHASE). It found that receipt of social support, such as receiving money, food, clothing and housework help, reduced depressive symptoms among older individuals but at the same time made them feel like they had lost their 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 the reduction in one’s sense of control over their life was larger for women than in men.

These novel findings are contrary to the common notion that more social support is always good. They also suggest that in order for social support to improve the overall mental health of older adults, both caregivers and policy-makers have to be aware of both its negative and positive effects.

“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 first author Mr Ang, Research Assistant at Duke-NUS.