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J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Jan;65(1):51-6. doi: 10.1136/jech.2009.092213. Epub 2009 Nov 12.

Is blood thicker than water? Social support, depression and the modifying role of ethnicity/nativity status.

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  • 1Institute on Urban Health Research, BouvĂ© College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115-5000, USA.



Social support may be particularly important in countering depression among systematically disadvantaged groups. Latino immigrants are an example of a disadvantaged population that has better than expected mental health outcomes. One explanation put forth for this pattern is strong social support from kin networks. Studies on the effect of social support on mental health often assess the quantity of social ties rather than the quality of the support they provide. In addition, such studies rarely specify the source of support and how support from family versus friends may differentially impact mental health.


In this study, data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighbourhoods were used to disaggregate the effects of source-specific emotional support on risk of depression. Second, the relationship between ethnicity/nativity status and risk of depression was examined. Finally, whether the relationship between family-based and friend-based social support and depression differed across ethnic/nativity status was explored.


Support from both family and friends had protective effects on risk of depression; however, when mutually adjusted, only kin support remained statistically significant. At higher levels of family support, foreign-born Mexicans and African Americans had decreased risk of depression than at low levels of family support.


This study provides evidence that family support may be more important than non-kin support for mental health. Findings also suggest that the effects of family support on risk of depression vary by ethnicity and nativity status. Preservation of naturally occurring support resources among some groups may be a way to maintain mental health.

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