The Importance of “Being There”: a Qualitative Study of What Veterans with Depression Want in Social Support

Alan R. Teo, Heather E. Marsh, Sarah S. Ono, Christina Nicolaidis, Somnath Saha, Steven K. Dobscha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Social connectedness exerts strong influences on health, including major depression and suicide. A major component of social connectedness is having individual relationships with close supports, romantic partners, and other trusted members of one’s social network. Objective: The objective of this study was to understand how individuals’ relationships with close supports might be leveraged to improve outcomes for primary care patients with depression and at risk for suicide. Design: In this qualitative study, we used a semi-structured interview guide to probe patient experiences, views, and preferences related to social support. Participants: We conducted interviews with 30 primary care patients at a Veterans Health Administration (VA) medical center who had symptoms of major depression and a close support. Approach: Thematic analysis of qualitative interview data examined close supports’ impact on patients. We iteratively developed a codebook, used output from codes to sort data into themes, and selected quotations that exemplified themes for inclusion in this manuscript. Key Results: “Being there” as an important quality of close supports emerged as a key concept. “Being there” was defined in three ways: physical proximity, frequent or responsive contact, or perceived availability. Close supports who were effective at “being there” possessed skills in intuitively sensing the patient’s emotional state and communicating indirectly about depression. Three major barriers to involving close supports in depression care were concerns of overburdening the close support, a perception that awareness of the patient’s depression would make the close support unnecessarily worried, and a desire and preference among patients to handle depression on their own. Conclusions: “Being there” represents a novel, patient-generated way to conceptualize and talk about social support. Suicide prevention initiatives such as population-level communication campaigns might be improved by incorporating language used by patients and addressing attitudinal barriers to allowing help and involvement of close supports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1954-1962
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • major depressive disorder
  • military veterans
  • social support
  • suicide prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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