Background: Social and emotional support is an important construct, which has been associated with a reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality. Despite its apparent relevance to health, there have been no recent state or national population-based U.S. studies regarding social and emotional support. In order to better address this issue, we examined health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and health behaviors by level of social and emotional support in community-dwelling adults in the United States and its territories.
Methods: Data were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing, state-based, random digit telephone survey of the noninstitutionalized U.S. population aged > or =18 years. In 2005, one social and emotional support question, four HRQOL questions, two disability questions, one life satisfaction question, and four health behavior questions were administered in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. An additional five HRQOL questions were administered in two states.
Results: An estimated 8.6% of adults reported that they rarely/never received social and emotional support; ranging in value from 4.2% in Minnesota to 12.4% in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As the level of social and emotional support decreased, the prevalence of fair/poor general health, dissatisfaction with life, and disability increased, as did the mean number of days of physical distress, mental distress, activity limitation, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, insufficient sleep, and pain. Moreover, the prevalence of smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and heavy drinking increased with decreasing level of social and emotional support. Additionally, the mean number of days of vitality slightly decreased with decreasing level of social and emotional support; particularly between those who always/usually received social and emotional support and those who sometimes received support.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that the assessment of social and emotional support is highly congruent with the practice of psychiatry. Assessment of social and emotional support, both in psychiatric and medical settings, may identify risk factors germane to adverse health behaviors, and foster interventions designed to improve the mental and physical health of at risk segments of the population.