Social Contacts and Depression in Middle and Advanced Adulthood: Findings from a US National Survey, 2005–2008

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International Journal of Social Psychiatry






Aim: Empirical evidence has linked social contacts with mental stability. The aim is to assess how social contacts are associated with depression among the general population.

Methods: We analysed the data of 5,681 adults aged 40 or older, who completed a depression screening as a part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005–2008. Depression was ascertained using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ), a nine-item screening instrument asking about the frequency of depression symptoms over the past two weeks. A PHQ score of 10 or higher was defined as depression.

Results: The prevalence of depression was 5.54% (SE = 0.64) and 8.49% (SE = 0.71), respectively, among men and women. The association between social contacts and depression were more salient among men than women. The odds ratios (ORs) of depression were 2.43 (95% CI = 1.44−4.10), 2.42 (95% CI = 1.37−4.28), 1.00 (reference) and 1.94 (95% CI = 0.80−4.71), respectively, among men who never attended church, attended occasionally, weekly and more than weekly. The corresponding ORs were 1.79 (95% CI = 1.10−2.91), 1.72 (95% CI = 1.06−2.80), 1.00(reference) and 0.98 (95% CI = 0.52−1.84) for women. Compared with the respondents who had 10 or more friends, the ORs of depression were 4.01 (95% CI = 1.89−8.50) and 1.86 (95% CI = 0.92−3.79), respectively, for men and women who had no close friends.

Conclusions: The current study concluded that traditional social contacts remain strongly associated with depression in the digital era. Digital social networking is one of the biggest growing industries, creating a new platform to make social contacts. There is an urgent need to explore how to maximize the potential of digital social networking to strengthen social bonds while minimizing its negative effects.