The objective of this study is to follow the composite theory approach to analyze the effect of social capital on self-rated mental health in rural and urban China. Our nationally representative sample includes 10,968 respondents from 130 county-level communities. Two-level random-coefficient linear regressions, which model individual and community variations in subjective mental health, were estimated by taking the hierarchical structure of the dataset into account. We found that a significant proportion of the total variations in self-rated mental health were explained at the community level. We also found an association between low contextual civic trust and poor self-rated mental health after adjusting for individual social capital and individual socioeconomic-demographic variables. The study also revealed that: (1) in rural areas a positive relationship between civic and political trust and mental health existed both at the individual and the community level, respectively; and (2) in urban areas, only political trust at the individual level contributed to better mental health. In addition, the individual and community level political participation exhibited a positive impact on mental health measures in both rural and urban China. The individual level civic participation was positively associated to the outcome variable. However, the community-level civic participation seemed to negatively impact mental health in urban area. Our findings emphasize the importance of both individual and community-level healthcare interventions in China. Finally, this study also found that human capital covariates remained important predictors of self-rated mental health status even after controlling social capital both at individual and community levels. This study suggested that the composite thesis could provide a more convincing narrative than other theories in explaining the effects of both human and social capital on health.
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