The relationship between social isolation, social support, and mental health
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This study explored how the structural aspects of a social network (that is, number of social ties, frequency of contact, as well as social participation), along with the functional aspect (social support), relate to mental health. Using data from the baseline questionnaire for the tracking cohort of participants in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, community-dwelling older adults aged 65-85 years old were studied. Cluster analysis was used to group individuals into different clusters, based on their structural social network characteristics. Six clusters were found, ranging from most socially integrated, to moderately integrated, to socially isolated. Univariate analyses indicated that as level of social integration decreased, individuals fared increasingly worse in terms of their mental health outcomes. Furthermore, a series of mediation analyses showed that social support mediated the relationship between social integration level, and mental health, an effect that was strongest for the most socially isolated individuals.