The direct and buffer effects of various aspects of social support and personal coping resources on depressive symptoms were examined. The study concerned a community-based sample of 1690 older persons aged 55-85 yrs, of whom 719 had no chronic disease, 612 had mild arthritis and 359 had severe arthritis. Persons with arthritis reported more depressive symptoms than persons with no chronic diseases. Irrespective of arthritis, the presence of a partner, having many close social relationships, feelings of mastery and a high self-esteem were found to have direct, favourable effects on psychological functioning. Mastery, having many diffuse social relationships, and receiving emotional support seem to mitigate the influence of arthritis on depressive symptoms, which is in conformity with the buffer hypothesis. Favourable effects of these variables on depressive symptomatology were only, or more strongly, found in persons suffering from severe arthritis.