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.