Social support, depression, and physical disability: Age and diagnostic group effects

Mark P. Jensen, Ph.D., Amanda E. Smith, B.S., Charles H. Bombardier, Ph.D., Kathryn M. Yorkston, Ph.D., Jordi Miró, Ph.D., Ivan R. Molton, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 2, p164–172
Published online: November 11, 2013


Social support is an important resource that may benefit individuals aging with physical disabilities, although its effects may vary depending on age, sex, and type of disability.


To (1) examine differences in social support – and how support might vary as a function of age and sex – in samples of individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord injury (SCI), and muscular dystrophy (MD) and (2) understand the extent that associations between different support domains and depression might be moderated by disability diagnosis, sex and age.


A convenience sample (N = 1416) of individuals with MS, SCI, and MD completed surveys that included measures of perceived social support and depressive symptoms.


No significant support differences were found between diagnostic groups. There was a gradual decrease in social support with chronological age, and women reported more support than men, particularly friend support. Levels of perceived friend support were negatively associated with depression, and the associations between social support and depression did not differ as a function of age, sex, or diagnosis.


Social support is similarly associated with lower levels of depression for men and women, across disability diagnoses and all ages. Being a man and being older may be associated with lower levels of perceived support. Research is needed to determine if interventions that improve support will decrease depression and improve quality of life in persons with disabilities, particularly for men and individuals who are aging.