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Soc Sci Med. 1993 Aug;37(3):331-42.

Life stress, social support and clinical depression: a reanalysis of the literature.

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  • 1Department of Nursing, University of Iceland, Reykjavik.


In recent years, theorists and researchers have disagreed about the relationship between social support and mental health. Some believe that support is a direct provoking agent (i.e. lack of support constitutes strain), whereas others maintain that support is a vulnerability factor moderating the effect of life stress. Focusing on clinical depression, the article reviews the arguments and evidence supporting a strain hypothesis of social support versus a vulnerability hypothesis. Reanalyzing cross-classified data from 12 community studies of clinical depression, the study shows that the choice of model depends on the specification of functional form of the stress-clinical depression relationship. The linear probability specification suggests a vulnerability hypothesis, whereas the logit and probit specifications support a strain hypothesis. However, theoretical and statistical arguments tend to favor a logit or probit specification, and an additional analysis of data from Brown and Harris [Social Origins of Depression: A Study of Psychiatric Disorder in Women. The Free Press, New York, 1978] supports these arguments. Thus, the study concludes that the strain hypothesis of social support is more consistent with the available data.

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