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Globally, experiencing trauma is associated with depression (Ehring, Razik, & Emmelkamp, 2011; Fowler, Allen, Oldham, & Frueh, 2013). Some studies have found that receiving social support can lessen the effects that traumatic events have on depression; however, this has not been studied among men in Central Asia. Urban areas of Kazakhstan have become desirable destinations for migrants in the Central Asian region who are seeking economic opportunity (Anderson & Hancilova, 2011), insomuch that approximately 3.6 million migrants are currently living in Kazakhstan (International Organization for Migration [IOM], 2017). Nevertheless, depression in the region has been identified as being high (WHO, 2017), and mental health professionals have reported a recent increase of working men who are seeking mental health services in Kazakhstan (Institute for Ward & Peace Reporting [IWPR], 2016). Greater research attention is needed to understand men’s mental health in this region, and further clarity is needed to understand the factors that contribute to, or buffer against, depression.

To respond to the abovementioned research needs, our study examined whether social support changed the relationship between traumatic events and depression among a sample of 1,342 male migrant and non-migrant market workers in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Traumatic events included 1) being in a life-threatening accident, 2) having physical force or a weapon used against them in a robbery or mugging, 3) witnessing another person being killed, seriously injured, or sexually or physically assaulted, and 4) being in any situation where they were seriously injured, or their life was in danger. Our findings showed that, in general, an increase in experiencing traumatic events was associated with greater depression. However, this relationship differed, depending on the amount of social support the men received. As perceived social support decreased, the association between experiencing traumatic events and depression symptoms increased significantly. Conversely, as perceived social support increased, the relationship between traumatic events and depression lessened. In other words, even if men had experienced a high number of traumatic events, it was not strongly associated with depression when they had higher amounts of social support. These results were the same for migrant and non-migrant males.
Our research indicates that social support may be especially important for male workers who have experienced trauma in this region. More specifically, our findings suggest that men who have experienced trauma may benefit from functional support, such as help with daily chores and have a trusted person available to them, and also emotional support, such as being listened to when they need to talk, receiving advice, and obtaining love and affection. This combination of functional and emotional support was the operational definition of social support that benefited men in our sample.
Some cultural expectations emphasize the importance of masculine self-sufficiency, suggesting that men should not reach out for help or support (El-Bassel et al., 2015). However, particularly when having experienced trauma, maintaining a social network may be critical, as it buffers against the likelihood of experiencing depression. Programs and policies that seek to promote social cohesion and bonding, as well as access to mental health services, are needed for migrant and non-migrant men who have experienced trauma.


Anderson, B., & Hancilova, B. (2011). Migrant labour in Kazakhstan: A cause for concern? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37, 547-563.

Ehring, T., Razik, S., & Emmelkamp, P. M. G. (2011). Prevalence and predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and burnout in Pakistani earthquake recovery workers. Psychiatry Research, 185(1-2), 161-166.

El-Bassel, N., Shaw, S. A., Mergenova, G., Ismayilova, L., McCrimmon, T., Terlikbayeva, A., & Gilbert, L. (2015). Masculinities and social contexts of HIV risk practices among Central Asian male migrant workers. Journal of AIDS & Clinical Research, 6: 486. Doi: 10.4172/2155-6113.1000486

Fowler, J. C., Allen, J. G., Oldham, J. M., Frueh, B. C. (2013). Exposure to interpersonal trauma, attachment insecurity, and depression severity. Journal of Affective Disorders, 149(1-3), 313-318.

Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). (2016). Economic crisis shakes Kazakhstan’s macho culture. Retrieved from https://iwpr.net/global-voices/economic-crisis-shakes-kazakstans-macho.

International Organization for Migration (IOM). (2017). Migration Data Portal, 2017. Retrieved from https://migrationdataportal.org/?i=stock_abs_&t=2017&cm49=398

Kinderman, P., Schwannauer, M., Pontin, E., & Tai, S. (2013). Psychological processes mediate the impact of familial risk, social circumstances, and life events on mental health. PLoS ONE, 8(10): e76564 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076564

World Health Organization (WHO). (2017).  Infographic – Depression in Kazakhstan (2017). Retrieved from http://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/kazakhstan/data-and-statistics/infographic-depression-in-kazakhstan-2017

Article Reference:

Ward, K. P., Shaw, S. A., Chang, M., & El-Bassel, N. (in press). Social support moderates the effects of traumatic life events on depression among migrant and non-migrant males in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does experiencing trauma impact migrant and non-migrant males in Kazakhstan? 
  2. How can social support help migrant and non-migrant males who have experienced trauma?

Author Biographies

Kaitlin P. Ward: Kaitlin P. Ward received her MSW from Brigham Young University in 2018 and is now a doctoral student in the Joint Ph.D. Program in Social Work and Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include the influence of traumatic experiences on mental health outcomes, child maltreatment prevention, the influence of family relations on child outcomes, and using advanced statistical techniques to better understand disparities in child outcomes.

Stacey A. Shaw: Dr. Shaw is an assistant professor at the School of Social Work at Brigham Young University. Dr. Shaw received her PhD in Social Work from Columbia University.
Mingway Chang: Dr. Chang is a research scientist and statistician at the School of Social Work at Columbia University, working in the Social Intervention Group. Dr. Chang received his PhD in Sociology from New York University.
Nabila El-Bassel:
Dr. El-Bassel is the Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work at the Columbia University School of Social Work and Director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG), which was established in 1990 as a multi-disciplinary center focusing on developing and testing HIV, drug use, and gender –based violence effective prevention and intervention approaches and disseminating them to local, national, and global communities. Dr. El-Bassel is also the Director of the Columbia University Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA), a team of faculty, scientists, researchers, and students in both New York and Central Asia committed to advancing solutions to health and social issues in Central Asia through Research, Education, Training, and Policy and Dissemination.