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Social support is the physical and emotional comfort given to us by our family, friends, co-workers and others. It is knowing that we are part of a community of people who love and care for us, and value and think well of us. Social support is a way of categorizing the rewards of communication in a particular circumstance. An important aspect of support is that a message or communicative experience does not constitute support unless the receiver views it as such.

Many studies have demonstrated that social support acts as a moderating factor in the development of psychological and/or physical disease (such as clinical depression[1] or hypertension[How to reference and link to summary or text]) as a result of stressful life events. As such, it is a critical component in the assessment of overall well-being. There is growing evidence to suggest that social support affects humans differently throughout life, suggesting that the need to receive and provide social support shifts across development.

Forms of Social Support[]

Support can come in many different forms; experts who study human relationships have identified three main types of social support:

  • Emotional Support - This is what people most often think of when they talk about social support. People are emotionally supportive when they tell us that they care about us and think well of us. For example, if you separated from your partner or lost your job, a close friend might call every day for the first few weeks afterwards just to see how you are doing and to let you know that he or she cares.
  • Practical Help - People who care about us give us practical help such as gifts of money or food, assistance with cooking, child care, or help moving house. This kind of support helps us complete the basic tasks of day-to-day life.
  • Sharing Points of View - Another way for people to help is to offer their opinion about how they view a particular situation, or how they would choose to handle it. In sharing points of view, we can develop a better understanding of our situation and the best way to handle it. For example, if you tell a friend about difficulties you are having with your teenage son, she may offer a point of view you hadn't considered, and this may help you to better address the situation with your child.

Protective effects of social support[]

There is evidence in both physical and mental health that social support can have a protective effect across a wide range of disorders

  • Social support and physical health
  • Social support and mental health

Researchers of Social Support[]

Social Support among Older Adults

Miriam Stewart

After finishing a Bachelor of Nursing Degree at McMaster in 1967, Dr. Miriam Stewart continued her education at Dalhousie University with a Masters degree in 1976 and a Ph.D. in 1988. She has held numerous awards and national positions, including a prestigious Medical Research Council of Canada National Health Research Development Program Scholar Award to investigate social support over the life span. Miriam was commissioned by Health Canada and by the National Forum on Health to write synthesis papers regarding the population health determinants. She was also the invited keynote speaker to the 1994 World Health Organization's International Conference "Fostering Children's Resilience."

Stewart's research is in population health and the social determinants of health. This includes the links between factors such as socioeconomic status, culture, gender, and social support that affect one's health. She demonstrates an ability to coordinate and envision the overall research goals given that her research has involved multidisciplinary teams, multi-site research teams, building research capacity, creating research infrastructures, and establishing partnerships with public, practice and policy domains. The projects have ranged in scope from focusing on populations living in disadvantaged circumstances and testing interventions to improve health determinants, to identifying the implications of programs and services and disseminating the information. Her work in resilience has looked at the ability of children, families and communities to overcome challenges.

After serving as Principal Investigator and Director of the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, she became the Director of the Centre for Health Promotion Studies at the University of Alberta. In 2000, Miriam was named as one of the 13 Scientific Directors for the Canadian Institute for Health Research. As the Scientific Director for the Institute of Gender and Health, her goal is to develop a research strategy in this area of health. She is also currently the Director and Chair of the Centre for Health Promotion Studies and the University of Alberta. Miriam has published five books, 23 chapters and over 60 articles. (From McMaster University Alumni Association)

Social Support among Adults

  • M. Barrera
  • L.A. Chandler
  • L.H. Cohen
  • B.E. Compas
  • Leonard Jason[1]

Social Support among Adolescents

  • Blake Bowden
  • N. Lin
  • A.M. Nezu
  • Brian Printz
  • R.N. Sandler
  • Mark Shermis
  • E.M. Swearingen

Social Support among Children

See also[]

  • Social support networks
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