The association between perceived social support and health among patients at a free urban clinic

J Natl Med Assoc. 2009 Mar;101(3):243-50. doi: 10.1016/s0027-9684(15)30852-x.


Objective: This study examines the association between perceived social support and the prevalence of physical and mental health conditions among adult patients of an urban free medical clinic.

Methods: Patients (n = 289) completed a health risk assessment (HRA) questionnaire that addressed a number of medical and social issues, including perceived social support and whether patients had been told they had certain health conditions. Among these questions were 2 validated instruments: the PRIME-MD for mental health disorder assessment and CAGE for alcohol risk assessment. A deidentified database of responses was analyzed for statistical associations between perceived social support and these health conditions.

Results: Among those with insufficient perceived social support there were higher rates of having physician-measured overweight/obesity, a heart condition, a previous heart attack, anxiety, and depression. The association between perceived social support and cardiovascular health existed among women but not among men. Higher income, not smoking, and consumption of high-fiber foods were associated with sufficient social support.

Conclusion: Perceiving sufficient social support was associated with lower rates of several mental and physical health disorders. Social support may act as a barrier or buffer to poor health caused by the stressful living conditions often experienced by low-income underinsured people. Males and females may experience this social support buffering differently.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status
  • Heart Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Health
  • Prevalence
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment
  • Social Perception*
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uncompensated Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*