A serial mediating effect of perceived family support on psychological well-being | BMC Public Health


Theoretical basis

Social Support Theory explains the influence of interpersonal relationships on individual well-being and adaptability [13]. It implies that social support is a combination of all types of actual or perceived help and resources obtained by people when under stress, dealing with issues, or adapting to environmental changes. The formulation of social support theory is grounded in the understanding of social support and its positive influence on human health and well-being. Research findings have indicated that social support can improve people’s mental health, reduce stress, promote physical health, improve individual adaptability and increase life satisfaction [14]. The development of social support theory also includes research on the sources, influencing factors and measurement methods of social support. Researchers found that social support can come from different interpersonal relationships and social networks, such as family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and community organizations [15]. In addition, the size, structure and quality of an individual’s social support network will also have an impact on their well-being and adaptability [16]. Intervention and research based on social support theory can help people better understand and promote the positive impact of social support on individual health and happiness, and then improve individual quality of life and well-being.

Family Systems Theory is a theoretical framework for family and individual development, which emphasizes the interdependence, mutual influence and interaction among family members. Based on this theory, family is conceptualized as an interconnected system, wherein the dynamics and interactions among family members exert a significant influence on individual behavior, emotion and development. The origin of family system theory can be traced back to the 1950s, which was put forward by psychologist Murray Bowen [17]. Bowen put forward the family system theory as a framework to explain mental illness and individual problems and combined it with the concept of Differentiation of Self. Subsequently, many researchers and clinical experts further developed and expanded the family system theory [18].

By analyzing the social support theory and family systems theory, we find that both theories emphasize the concepts of interaction, reciprocity and systematization [18, 19], the family is regarded as a system in society, in which family members are interrelated, influence each other and form a dynamic balance. Family members’ conduct and emotions form a cyclical pattern in the family system, which means that one person’s behavior impacts other people’s behavior, which in turn affects one’s behavior.

Perceived family support and psychological well-being

According to the family stress model, in the family environment, people often encounter stressful events [20], which need to consume individual self-control resources to complete tasks. However, self-control resources are limited, and when resources are exhausted, the performance of subsequent tasks will decline. As a social resource, family support can be used as a resource supplement for self-control, helping us to adjust our state and face life positively. Therefore, perceived family support plays a vital role in improving emotional well-being. Based on the theory of social support, a supportive and nurturing family environment can provide security, love and acceptance [21], which are very important for emotional development, emotional stability and overall happiness. Family members can provide emotional support, understanding and encouragement to each other to help people cope with stress, anxiety and other emotional difficulties [7, 22]. Through fostering open communication, practicing active listening, and displaying empathy, families can establish a nurturing environment where individuals feel safe to express their emotions and seek solace [23], which also confirms the specific content of family system theory. Perceived family support helps to strengthen social relations by promoting positive interactions and relationships within families. These connections can extend beyond immediate families and have a positive impact on wider social networks and communities. Overall, perceived family support contributes significantly to social well-being by providing emotional, financial and practical help [24].

Perceived family support (PFS) provides a sense of belonging, love and acceptance, resulting in enhanced mental health and a stronger social support network. Active participation of family members in family interaction helps to improve their well-being [25]. When people get support from family members, it will exert a beneficial influence on their mental health and overall psychological well-being, which helps people feel more capable and potential, and reduces depression, stress and anxiety [7] also promotes security and confidence in facing life challenges and stimulates potential in life.

Therefore, the following assumptions are put forward:


Perceived family support has a significant positive relationship with emotional well-being.


Perceived family support has a significant positive relationship with social well-being.


Perceived family support has a significant positive relationship with psychological well-being.

Mental health and well-being

In Keyes’s research, emotional well-being (EWB), social well-being (SWB) and psychological well-being (PWB) jointly explain mental health and well-being [10]. When people experience positive emotions such as happiness, joy and satisfaction, it improves their overall psychological well-being and helps to gain a sense of accomplishment, resilience and a positive outlook on life. Besides, emotional well-being also plays a vital role in managing stress, anxiety and negative emotions. People with high emotional well-being are more able to cope with challenges and adversity, show stronger emotional resilience [26], and are more effective problem-solving abilities, have healthier interpersonal relationships and higher self-esteem levels [22]. And emotional well-being promotes self-awareness and self-regulation so that people can effectively understand and manage their emotions [27]. This ability to regulate emotions contributes to better mental health outcomes, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In addition, emotional well-being contributes to the formation and maintenance of healthy and meaningful relationships. Emotion Regulation Theory [28] points out that individuals’ ability to recognize and regulate their own emotions will affect their emotional communication and relationship with others. Concurrently, the theory of Emotional Intelligence suggests that possessing the capacity to perceive, comprehend, and regulate one’s own and others’ emotions is crucial for facilitating effective interpersonal interactions and managing emotions adeptly [29]. Therefore, when people have positive emotions, they are more likely to have warm, supportive and empathetic interactions with others. When people maintain emotional balance and coordinate with their own emotions, they can better understand and deal with other people’s emotions, and can better express themselves clearly, actively listen to others and constructively manage conflicts. It facilitates effective communication, promotes understanding, makes them approachable and reduces misunderstandings or conflicts in social interactions and promotes deeper ties, empathy and social support, thus strengthening social ties. And it is more likely to arouse positive reactions from others, which leads to more pleasant and harmonious social interaction. It, in turn, helps to create a positive social atmosphere and promote social well-being.

Because of the innate demand of human beings for social relations and the profound influence of social interaction on mental health, there is also a strong connection between social well-being and psychological well-being. Social well-being provides people with a sense of belonging and connection to others. Empirical investigations demonstrated that self-perceived social integration acted as a protective factor for the subjective well-being of immigrants, contributing to higher levels of life satisfaction and lower levels of loneliness [30]. When people feel a social connection, support and acceptance through social networks, they will enhance their self-esteem, self-worth and overall psychological well-being. Perceived belonging to a supportive social group (such as family) can buffer loneliness, isolation and depression [7]. As mentioned in the social support theory, positive social interaction is very important for individual psychological well-being [13]. Social well-being involves positive and satisfying social interactions, such as spending time with relatives, participating in conversations, attending social gatherings, etc., which can arouse positive emotions and increase well-being. Generally speaking, social well-being provides a supportive environment for cultivating psychological well-being, which meets the demands of human beings for connection, belonging and support, provides opportunities for personal growth and realization, promotes positive social interaction and stimulates cognitive function. These factors together promote the enhancement of psychological well-being and the improvement of quality of life.

Therefore, the following assumptions are put forward:


Emotional well-being has a significant positive impact on psychological well-being.


Social well-being has a significant positive impact on psychological well-being.


Emotional well-being has a significant positive impact on social well-being.

Emotional well-being and social well-being as mediators

Perceived family support may have indirect relationship with psychological well-being by affecting emotional and social interactions. It suggests that when people perceive family support, they may be more likely to experience positive emotions, such as happiness and satisfaction, which are beneficial for psychological well-being [22]. Additionally, perceived family support may also have indirect relationship with psychological well-being by facilitating the development of social interactions and relationships [25]. People perceive more social support and a sense of belonging, which may also have a positive relationship with psychological well-being. Meanwhile, emotional well-being may have a significant positive influence on social well-being [29].

Therefore, the following assumptions are put forward:


There were direct mediating effects of emotional well-being, direct mediating effects of social well-being and a serial mediating effect between perceived family support and psychological well-being.

The research model is shown in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1


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