top of page

Why Social Support Is Important During Stressful Times

Beth Bradford

3/17/23, 11:22 AM

Research from the University of Michigan shows social support is even more critical for people with a genetic link for depression.

Offering support to someone going through a stressful period can be beneficial, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan. But it's especially important for those who are genetically predisposed to developing depression.

The study found that the greatest effect was seen in people with the highest genetic risk of depression, who had higher rates of depression when they lost social support, but lower levels of depression when they gained social support.

The data came from two long-term studies which captured genetic, mood, environmental and other data from participants: the Intern Health Study which enrolls first-year medical residents around the US, and the Health and Retirement Study funded by the National Institute on Aging.

The results were based on 1,011 interns and 435 recently widowed individuals. In both groups, depressive symptoms increased significantly during their respective stressful times. But those with high polygenic risk scores who gained social support had lower scores on measures of depression symptoms than those with similar genetic risk who lost social support during their stressful times.

The researchers found that maintaining or even strengthening existing social connections can have positive benefits for both parties - whether it's at work, school or after a personal loss. While this study didn't examine professional mental health help directly, individual and group therapy is an important option for those who have developed depression or other mental health concerns.

Senior author Srijan Sen, M.D., Ph.D., of the U-M Medical School says even though some people are predisposed to depression though their DNA, it's important to understand how this genetic link might lead to depression.

"Further understanding the different genetic profiles associated with sensitivity to loss of social support, insufficient sleep, excessive work stress and other risk factors could help us develop personalized guidance for depression prevention," Sen said. "In the meantime, these findings reaffirm how important social connections, social support and individual sensitivity to the social environment are as factors in wellbeing and preventing depression."

bottom of page