Singapore: A study involving an Indian-origin researcher suggests that social support provided to older adults by family and friends may not have an entirely positive effect on their mental health but is instead a “mixed blessing”.
Assistant professor Rahul Malhotra and Shannon Ang from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore found that receipt of social support reduced depressive symptoms among older individuals, but at the same time made them feel like they had lost control over their lives.
The study, published recently in the journal Social Science and Medicine, linked this loss of control to increased depressive symptoms among older adults, which counteracted the positive effect of receiving social support.
The researchers analysed data collected from surveys administered to 2,766 older adults aged 62 to 97 who were part of the Panel of Health and Aging in Singaporean Elderly (PHASE).
“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,” said Ang, a research assistant at Duke-NUS.
Malhotra and Ang suggested that in order for social support to improve the overall mental health of older adults, both care-givers and policy-makers should be aware of both 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 Malhotra.
“We need to think of ways in which we can help older adults without increasing their sense of dependence,” he added.
The new findings are contrary to the common notion that more social support is always good.