Explaining the social patterns of depression: control and problem solving--or support and talking?

J Health Soc Behav. 1989 Jun;30(2):206-19.


Research on the social patterns of depression in the community finds consistently that high levels of education and income, being male, and being married are associated with lower levels of depression. We attempt to explain these patterns as the result of two essential social perceptions: the sense of controlling one's own life rather than being at the mercy of powerful others and outside forces, and the sense of having a supportive and understanding person to talk to in times of trouble. In theory, the sense of control reduces depression because it encourages active problem solving, and the sense of support reduces depression because it provides others to talk to. We find evidence for the first proposition: persons who feel in control of their lives are more likely to attempt to solve problems. Perceived control and problem solving decrease depression and largely explain the effects of income and education on depression. We find, however, that support has mixed effects. Support decreases depression, but talking to others when faced with a problem, which increases with the level of support, increases depression. Support explains a small part of the effect of marriage on depression. Control and support have an interactive effect on depression, suggesting that control and support can substitute for one another to decrease depression: a high level of one reduces the need for the other, and a low level of one is remedied by a high level of the other.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Problem Solving
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Conditions*
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors