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Social support, social selection and self-assessed health status: results from the veterans health study in the United States

By Xinhua S. Ren, Katherine Skinner, Austin Lee and Lewis Kazis

Abstract

This study provided a comprehensive assessment of the association between social support and health using longitudinal data from the Veterans Health Study. Unlike previous studies which examined the relationship between one single domain of social support with either mental or physical health, the present study assessed the effects of three different domains of social support on multiple measures of health. The findings of the study indicated that social support tended to mediate the deleterious effects of non-military traumatic events; whereas the adverse consequences of traumatic events experienced in the military were not affected by social support, suggesting that stressors associated with combat had a long lasting effect on the health status of veterans. The study results revealed that compared with those with better health, respondents with poor health were more likely to have lower levels of social support, suggesting that poor health might be a barrier to a person's ability to participate and/or maintain social relationships. The study also showed that different types of social support had varying beneficial effects on different measures of health. While perceived support had a strong effect on all the measures of health (except alcoholism) included in the study, living arrangement had a significant effect on post-traumatic stress disorder or physical health and participation in group activities had a strong effect only on physical functioning. The results of the study highlight the need for future research to determine whether particular types of social support affect various aspects of health differently. This simultaneous focus on multiple support functions and health outcomes is important because it provides insight into the mechanisms linking social support to health.Social support Veterans Stress Trauma exposure Self-assessed health

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