Social Support Buffers the Effects of Prenatal Depressed Mood: A Mixed-Methods Study

Crystal Modde Epstein, Michael J. Rice, Jeffrey A. French, Kevin A. Kupzyk, Julia F. Houfek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Women use various coping strategies to deal with stress and depression. These strategies are shaped by social contexts over the life course and may attenuate and/or exacerbate the physiologic effects of depression. AIMS: The purpose of this study was to determine whether coping strategies (active, disengaged, or social support coping) moderate depression-related diurnal cortisol dysregulation and to explore how social context influences women’s use of coping. METHODS: This was a mixed-methods study of pregnant women (N = 65) during mid-pregnancy. Cortisol was measured in saliva collected during the waking hours of the day. Participants completed the Edinburgh Depression Scale and the Brief COPE. A subset of the sample participated in semistructured qualitative interviews (n = 20). RESULTS: Social support coping, but not active or disengaged coping, moderated end-of-day cortisol levels. Among depressed women, higher use of social support was associated with lower and more dynamic (i.e., less flat) diurnal cortisol rhythms. The qualitative findings revealed how complex social dynamics related to financial insecurity, lack of mutuality, and social identity affected women’s use of and access to social support. CONCLUSION: These findings support theories of the stress-buffering effects of social support. Future research is needed to examine how social determinants affect access to social support, and how early life social experiences condition women’s adaptive formation of social support coping strategies over the life course. Clinically, these findings underscore the value of relationship-centered nursing care for depressed women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-107
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024


  • antenatal
  • hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis
  • neuroendocrine
  • social determinants of health
  • social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health


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