Adults aged 55 or above represent a large and growing proportion of the US and international correctional populations and more physical and mental health problems than their non-incarcerated peers. Social capital represents the collective cognitive and network structure resources accessible through social relationships and may serve as a potential asset in carceral settings in the amelioration of depressive symptoms among older adults.
A sample of men drawn from a study of older adults in Kentucky prisons (n = 91) was used to meet the following aims: (1) explore relationships among cognitive and structural facets of social capital, chronic health conditions and depressive symptoms and (2) identify the role of social capital (viz. trust) alongside chronic health conditions as a determinant of depressive symptoms. We hypothesized that each indicator of social capital would relate negatively to depressive symptoms and that trust would emerge as most strongly associated with depressive symptoms.
Bivariate correlations between depression and social capital variables related as we hypothesized. However, our hypotheses were only partially supported. Higher trust was correlated to fewer depressive symptoms (r = .21, p < .05) revealing a lighter side of trust in the correctional milieu but was unrelated to depression when controlling for variables. An interaction term in the final model indicated a different role for trust. Factors accounted for 64% of variance in depressive symptoms among older adults in a state prison (F(10, 80) = 14.25, p < .001). In this model, higher trust was related to depressive symptoms when included alongside additional measures of social capital, indicating that a darker side of this facet may exist within correctional settings.
Many indicators of social capital (e.g., network size) demonstrated potentially protective benefits against depression, while trust revealed a more complex role related to chronic health conditions. Limited measures and the agnostic behavior of trust require attention by future researchers.