The relation between social support and college students’ depression : integrating main and stress-buffering effects across socioeconomic statuses




Crowe, Elizabeth Wiginton

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Research consistently shows a negative association between socioeconomic status (SES) and depression. Equally well-established is the contribution of social support to positive outcomes. Though the intersection of these constructs has been empirically examined, their interrelations remain unclear. The goal of this dissertation was to contribute to research on socioeconomic status (SES) and social support in college students. Conditional process analysis (i.e., moderated mediation) was used to explore: 1) whether perceived social support mediates the relation between network diversity and depression; and 2) whether family affluence, subjective social class, and first-generation status moderate the relation between both types of social support and depression. As hypothesized, perceived support and network diversity were negatively correlated with depressive symptoms, and SES indicators (with the exception of generation status) were positively correlated with depressive symptoms. Contrary to hypotheses, network diversity had a positive direct effect on depression. However, the results did suggest that network diversity has a negative indirect effect on depression via perceived support. Though the SES indicators correlated with depressive symptoms, they were not found to directly affect depression in the regression models. Additionally, the SES indicators did not moderate the relation between perceived support and depression or between network diversity and depression. Based on this pattern of results, it was concluded that network diversity, a type of structural support, may not be unequivocally beneficial, as is often assumed in research. Therefore, it is suggested that future studies include measures of the quality of social relationships as mediators between measures of structural support and mental health outcomes. With regard to the nonsignificant effects of SES and lack of moderation between social support and SES, it was proposed that college students may be protected from some of the stressful aspects of being of low SES. The difficulty in designing robust, generalizable research on SES and social support is also discussed. In an effort to establish consistency in the literature on these important constructs, future researchers should be intentional about how they operationalize and measure SES and social support.


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