Social Networks, Social Support, and Mental Health in Cross-National Comparative Perspective

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Psychiatric and Mental Health
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The dissertation contributes to the sociology of mental health by demonstrating that institutional and cultural settings shape the level of social cohesion and its influence on mental well-being. The dissertation consists of three independent but complementary essays. The first essay examines the influence of contexts on the link between social cohesion and suicide risk across countries in Americas, East Asia, and Europe. Using multilevel analysis, I show that marriage, parenthood, co-residence with parents, religious participation, and general social trust are all differentially related to suicide rates by region of the world. Whether a cohesive relationship is protective against suicide depends on contextual factors such as stigma against marital dissolution, welfare state regime, and the strength of religious networks. This essay contests Durkheim's theory on social cohesion and suicide by showcasing the international variation in the "benefits" of social cohesion. In the second essay, I examine the role of social cohesion and economic security in the mental health disparity between two societies in transition--China and Russia. The results show that the lower level of depressive symptoms among Chinese is in part attributed to their higher economic security and social cohesion (e.g., trust and perceived safety in the neighborhood). The findings suggest that reform policy and institutional capacity of the state contribute to differences in social and economic resources and mental health outcomes between China and Russia. In the final essay, I compare the structure of core personal networks in three societies--China, Japan, and the U.S. The results show that structural aspects of social networks, including size, density, proportion of kin confidants, and frequency of contact, vary considerably between countries. Nevertheless, none of these countries seems to have a "better" social network structure than another. In fact, the findings challenge the conventional cultural notion of Eastern collectivism vs. Western individualism. The study suggests that the significantly lower prevalence of mental disorders in China and Japan compared to the U.S. cannot be explained by country-level differences in the strength of personal networks.

Jason Schnittker
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