November 22, 2016
1 min read

Strong social ties protective against post-disaster PTSD, depression

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Having a strong social network was associated with lower risk for PTSD among survivors of a major bushfire disaster.

“There is overwhelming evidence that disasters result in increased rates of mental health problems, including PTSD and depression. Although much evidence indicates that this impact is moderated by social support, the exact role of social relationships and psychosocial resources in protecting against mental health deficits has been the subject of debate,” Richard A. Bryant, PhD, of University of New South Wales, Sydney, and colleagues wrote.

To assess associations between mental health outcomes after a disaster and social network structures, researchers evaluated a community-based cohort of survivors of a major bushfire disaster (n = 558) for PTSD and depression. Social networks were determined by participants indicating individuals with whom they felt personally close. Indicated relationships were used to determine a social network map displaying each participant’s relationship to other participants.

Participants who reported fewer social connections, were connected to other participants with depression, or individuals who had left their community had higher depression risk.

Risk for PTSD was higher if fewer participants reported connections with the participant, if those who felt close to the participant had higher levels of property loss, or if the participant was associated with others who were not interconnected.

Being connected to other participants who were reciprocally close to each other was associated with lower risk for PTSD.

“This study provides important new evidence concerning postdisaster social structures and how they are associated with mental health outcomes. Depression appears to occur in people who are connected, which may point to the importance of social interactions in maintaining depressive responses. Moreover, PTSD was associated with more fractured social networks,” the researchers wrote. “Taken together, these findings highlight the need to look beyond individual effects if posttraumatic mental health is to be adequately understood. Delineating social structures after disaster and how these moderate mental health trajectories can shed light on social interventions that may facilitate adjustment after disaster.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.