Methods: Cross-sectional data for individuals aged 20-29 were taken from the Israeli Social Survey for the year 2017 (N=1,508). SSS is measured by subjective-poverty and material deprivation indices. Social participation is measured by connection with family and friends; self-perceived-support; self-perceived trust; volunteering; civic and political involvement; and the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), i.e., online social networks. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was employed to explore paths of relations between SSS, social participation and mental health. We further used the RMediation package to test the significance of each mediation effect based on the full model.
Results: Multiple model fit indicators were assessed and demonstrated a very good model fit to the data (χ2(30)=72.98, p<0.05, χ2/df=2.43, RMSEA=.031, CFI=.964, TLI=.921, NFI=.942). The model explained 24% of the variance in mental health. Subjective poverty (standardized regression weights β=-.20 and β=-.15) and material deprivation indices (β=-.10) negatively correlated with mental health. Three mediators appeared in the model that link SSS to mental health: informal social participation – a factor including relations with family and friends and self-perceived-support; self-perceived trust; and ICT usage. Informal social participation (β=.20) and self-perceived trust (β=.08) positively correlated with mental health, whereas higher use of online social networks decreased mental health (β=-.16). Similar results applied regarding material deprivation indices. Volunteering and civic or political involvement had no direct or indirect effect on mental health among young adults.
Conclusions and Implications: Several forms of social participation were found to mitigate the negative effect of low SSS on mental health. Thus, interventions aimed at promoting certain aspects of social participation and self-perceived trust, while regulating and moderating the use of online social networks, are recommended as a way for health and social services to reduce inequality and enhance mental health among young adults. This might also prevent further escalation of mental health problems in later years. However, in order to substantially narrow health disparities, direct actions should be taken to reduce poverty and social and economic marginalization.