Social integration theory

Early theorists in the field of social integration included Durkheim1 who found that suicide was more prevalent in individuals who were not married or who had no involvement in the church or community and Cohen & Syme2 who showed that higher levels of social integration were associated with fewer depressive symptoms possibly because relationships with others increase the opportunities for social support during times of adversity.

Peer-based programs can facilitate social integration for at risk youth in three ways:

  • Participants have shared experiences/common issues which may be associated with reduced odds of peer rejection within a group.
  • Programs provide a common focus e.g. skills development or a group activity which gives young people a reason to interact with other peers. This may be less intimidating for at risk youth who may lack social skills to make friends by themselves.
  • Programs provide an alternative peer group where an individual’s current peer group is rejecting or provides a negative influence.

Benefits for youth participating in peer-based programs are an increased sense of belonging/social connectedness; increased self esteem/self worth through social validation by peers; a sense of purpose that is considered important for mental wellbeing; and reduced risk of mental disorder through reduced isolation.


  1. Durkheim, E. (1897/1997). Suicide. Mankato, MN, The Free Press.
  2. Cohen, S. and S. L. Syme (1985). Social support and health. San Francisco, CA, Academic Press.