Social network characteristics may provide a novel non-pharmaceutical target for the prevention of depression. We investigated the temporal association of a broad range of structural and functional social network characteristics with incident depressive symptoms over 5 years of follow-up.
We used data from The Maastricht Study, a population-based prospective cohort study (n=2,465, mean age 59.8±8.1 years, 49.1% women, 11,585 person-years of follow-up). Social network characteristics were assessed through a name generator questionnaire. Clinically relevant depressive symptoms (9-item Patient Health Questionnaire score≥10) were assessed at baseline and annually. We used multivariable logistic and Cox regression analyses, adjusted for sociodemographic, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors.
In cross-sectional analyses less emotional support for discomfort and with important decisions, and less informational support were associated with prevalent depressive symptoms (OR[95%CI] 1.19 [1.01-1.40]; 1.22 [1.05-1.43], and 1.20 [1.04-1.39], respectively). Every fewer 10% of family members was associated with prevalent depressive symptoms (1.11 [1.01-1.23]). In longitudinal analyses, less emotional support on important decisions was also associated with higher risk of incident depressive symptoms (HR[95%CI] 1.13 [1.03-1.25]). In addition, every fewer 10% of the network that was a family member was associated with a higher hazard of incident depressive symptoms (1.07 [1.01-1.13]).
This study shows that less emotional support and fewer family members in the network were associated with higher risk of both prevalent and incident depression. The importance of emotional support and the role that family plays should be considered in treatment and prevention of depression.

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