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Revista de Saúde Pública

On-line version ISSN 1518-8787Print version ISSN 0034-8910


CASTRO, Roberto; CAMPERO, Lourdes  and  HERNANDEZ, Bernardo. Research on social support and health: current status and new challenges. Rev. Saúde Pública [online]. 1997, vol.31, n.4, pp.425-435. ISSN 1518-8787.

On the borderline between sociology and psychology, the concept of social support has made it possible to develop a whole research tradition aimed at explaining some of the differences existing in the distribution of mental and physical disease. The concept of social support itself, however, still presents some ambiguities which must be clarified. These problems are discussed and it is showed and shows that the topic can be enriched with the contribution of the social sciences. Different definitions of the concept itself, are briefly analysed and the complexity and multidimensional character of social support are highlighted. The association between social support and health is discussed. The differences and implications of the direct effect model and the buffering effect model are addressed, and the relevance of the construct of social support is enhanced. The need to study social support not only as a likely determinant of some forms of disease, but also as a dependent variable, is brought out. Some recent developments in the study of factors associated with the availability of social support are discussed. It is shown that social support is a product of certain social factors which can be clearly identified by sociological analysis. In order to illustrate this point, the structural determinants of a specific dimension of social support -attention- are discussed. The importance of structural variables like social class and gender in attempting to explain the differential distribution of certain forms of social support is emphasized. It is proposed, on the theoretical level, that the intersection between two related autonomous constructs -social class and social support- may better explain those aspects of these concepts that are of importance to observed heterogeneity in the distribution of mental and physical health. Different theoretical and methodological approaches to the understanding of the determinants of social support and its effect on health are suggested.

Keywords : Social support; Social justice.

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