Open Access Research article

The association between social capital and mental health and behavioural problems in children and adolescents: an integrative systematic review

Kerri E McPherson1*, Susan Kerr1, Elizabeth McGee1, Antony Morgan2, Francine M Cheater3, Jennifer McLean4 and James Egan4

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Applied Health Research, School of Health & Life Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA, UK

2 GCU London, 40 Fashion Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6PX, UK

3 School of Nursing Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

4 Glasgow Centre for Population Health, 1st Floor, House 6, 94 Elmbank Street, Glasgow G2 4DL, UK

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BMC Psychology 2014, 2:7  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-2-7

Published: 26 March 2014



Mental health is an important component of overall health and wellbeing and crucial for a happy and meaningful life. The prevalence of mental health problems amongst children and adolescent is high; with estimates suggesting 10-20% suffer from mental health problems at any given time. These mental health problems include internalising (e.g. depression and social anxiety) and externalising behavioural problems (e.g. aggression and anti-social behaviour). Although social capital has been shown to be associated with mental health/behavioural problems in young people, attempts to consolidate the evidence in the form of a review have been limited. This integrative systematic review identified and synthesised international research findings on the role and impact of family and community social capital on mental health/behavioural problems in children and adolescents to provide a consolidated evidence base to inform future research and policy development.


Nine electronic databases were searched for relevant studies and this was followed by hand searching. Identified literature was screened using review-specific inclusion/exclusion criteria, the data were extracted from the included studies and study quality was assessed. Heterogeneity in study design and outcomes precluded meta-analysis/meta-synthesis, the results are therefore presented in narrative form.


After screening, 55 studies were retained. The majority were cross-sectional surveys and were conducted in North America (n = 33); seven were conducted in the UK. Samples ranged in size from 29 to 98,340. The synthesised results demonstrate that family and community social capital are associated with mental health/behavioural problems in children and adolescents. Positive parent–child relations, extended family support, social support networks, religiosity, neighbourhood and school quality appear to be particularly important.


To date, this is the most comprehensive review of the evidence on the relationships that exist between social capital and mental health/behavioural problems in children and adolescents. It suggests that social capital generated and mobilised at the family and community level can influence mental health/problem behaviour outcomes in young people. In addition, it highlights key gaps in knowledge where future research could further illuminate the mechanisms through which social capital works to influence health and wellbeing and thus inform policy development.

Family social capital; Community social capital; Children; Adolescents; Mental health; Wellbeing; Behavioural problems; Self-esteem; Internalising behaviours; Externalising behaviours