The influence of social support on health is well-established. Social support is related to lower mortality, greater resistance to communicable diseases, lower prevalence and incidence of coronary heart disease, and faster recovery from hearl disease and heart surgery. In general, individuals who have minimal psychosocial resources appear to be more prone to illness and mood disturbances when faced with increased stress levels than individuals with considerable social support.
There are two ways in which social support can affect health. The buffering hypothesis argues that people benefit from social support only when they experience a stressful life event, whereas the direct effect hypothesis argues that social relationships promote health and well-being regardless of the individual's stress level.
Both buffering and direct effects are possible, depending on the nature of the stressor. In either case, the relation between social support and health may be mediated, in part, by changes in people's emotional experience. Social upport may thus lead the individual to experience a lesser degree of stress in the face of a challenging situation.
There is likely to be a reciprocal relation between emotional experience and social support: Not only does the provision of social support influence one's emotional state, but a person's emotional state also influences the likelihood that social support is provided, We would expect that people would be more likely to provide on-going assistance to others who maintain a more positive outlook on life.
Several cross-sectional studies have observed a positive relation between mood and the perceived number of friends and family members who could be counted on and the actual number of people who had provided help over the course of a year. Signs of emotional distress signal one's need to potential providers of social support. However, the prolonged expression of negative emotion deters people from helping out.