Social Capital and Mental Health

Social Capital and Mental Health

Social Capital and Mental Health

Social Capital and Mental Health


Why do some areas have a higher prevalence of mental illness than others? How does the structure of a society affect its inhabitants' mental health? This remarkable book is the first to explore in detail the concept of social capital and its implications for mental health policy. Drawing on evidence from international research and fieldwork, the contributors examine the risk factors for mental health associated with both low and high social capital communities. They discuss the importance of relationships between individuals, groups and abstract bodies such as the state and outline different systems of social capital, for example intra-group 'bonding' and inter-group 'bridging'. The authors challenge the notion of community as a strictly area-based concept and call for broader-based studies of communities built around race, faith or even around a common social exclusion. Social Capital and Mental Health also reviews methods of measuring social capital, analyses the implications of research findings for future policy developments and makes clear recommendations for future practice and research. This book will be an informative and engaging read for sociologists and psychiatrists, and an incisive resource for policy makers and practitioners.


This ambitious book does us the uncomfortable service of showing us how much we have yet to understand. By studying social capital and mental health in radically different contexts – from Alabama to Colombia, from Lusaka to London – we see how effects depend on the context.

The nature of social relations must have major implications for mental health, and it would be wonderful if we knew how to guide societies towards healthier models, but nothing turns out so simply. No doubt partly as a result of the different levels of economic development plus different racial divides and ethnic mixes, what appear to be the same kinds of social phenomenon turn out, in the different contexts covered in this book, to have different effects.

People have often approached social capital as if more social interaction must mean better, forgetting that not all social links reflect a sense of inclusion, belonging or control. Some are vehicles for conflict, tension and anxiety. Bonding within some groups may be a reflection of exclusion from others. And some campaigning community groups may, like trade unions, exist as defences against particular injustices. In each case, the benefits of association may not be strong enough to overcome or counterbalance the negatives to which they may have been reactions.

We have known for some time that just as good social relations – friendship, good marriages, social support – are beneficial to health, so bad relationships – 'negative' relations, hostility, etc. – are bad for health. It is the same at the societal or community level: places in which people are more involved with each other enjoy better mental health but must depend partly on what brings them together – on the divisions and struggles to which they might be responses.

Too often we start research on social capital with definitions, as if our task was simply to define what we are talking about and go out and measure it. But defining something implies that we already know a lot about it. Perhaps social capital is more like a strange animal whose tracks we sometimes find but that rarely shows itself in the light of day. And if we could see it clearly, would we find that the things we call bridging, bonding, cognitive and vertical or horizontal social capital are all parts of the same beast or members of the same herd, or are they separate animals that roam around quite independently of each other? If we discover a new creature, we do not start by defining it before we even know . . .

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