Social and Cultural Risk and Protective Factors for Mental Health in East London Adolescents
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Background There is substantial evidence of the protective influence of social support on psychological distress in adults. Yet, levels of social support and psychological distress vary by ethnicity. There is little research investigating prospective associations between social support and psychological distress in an ethnically diverse sample of adolescents. Methods This thesis is based on secondary analysis of data from 'Research with East London Adolescents: Community Health Survey' (RELACHS). RELACHS is a prospective cohort questionnaire study conducted in a representative sample of adolescents aged 11-14 years at baseline and 13-16 years at follow-up. The analyses address three questions: (a) Are there prospective associations between baseline social support and follow-up psychological distress and depressive symptoms? (b) Does a change in social support overtime influence psychological distress or depressive symptoms at follow-up? (c) Are the effects of social support and culturally similar friendship choices independent and can these account for ethnic variations in psychological distress or depressive symptoms at follow-up. Results Low levels of family social support were significantly associated with depressive symptoms for female pupils (adjusted analyses: OR= 2.70 95% CI 1.20,6.08). A decre~se in total and family support overtime was significantly associated with depressive symptoms for female pupils (adjusted analyses: OR= 0.96 950/0 CI 0.93,0.98 and OR=0.61 95% CI 0.47,0.79 respectively). Social support could not account for ethnic variations in psychological distress or depressive symptoms. Culturally similar friendship choices were protective for psychological distress at follow-up. Conclusion Explanations for these findings include the possibility that family members [and peers from the same cultural group] provide a more consistent and healthy source of support than peers overall. Loss of family support appears to be risk factor specifically for girls from diverse ethnic groups.
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