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Social support : age gender and psychological distress

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Lacey, CM 2013 , 'Social support : age gender and psychological distress', Coursework Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The current study was conducted to investigate sex and age differences in various aspects of social support in a sample of 579 participants. The study also addressed possible links between particular forms of support, different support providers and psychological distress. Participants aged 18-71 all completed the Network of Relationships Inventory Social Provisions Version as well as the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale. It was revealed by a chi-square test that overall, the sample ranked their romantic partners, followed closely by their mothers, as the preferred support provider. Consistent with previous research, results of t-tests indicated that females reported higher levels of overall support than did males. Despite this, similar levels of support were reported by both males and females for their romantic partners, other sex friends and for most forms of support from fathers. When age differences were explored using a series of mixed model ANOVA's, younger participants were found to report higher levels of support from all providers, except romantic partners. Instead, older participants reported the highest mean level of support from their romantic partner for both instrumental and overall support types. Regression analyses involving possible links between support and psychological functioning, uncovered that males appeared to be more impacted by their support systems. This was indicated by support from multiple providers which were found to negatively and positively predict males levels of wellbeing. In comparison, only one provider was found to predict levels of psychological wellbeing in females. Despite significant amounts of research indicating the positive impacts of social support, the current study found that this relationship may be influenced by sex, support type and particular support provider.
Humans are described as innately social beings with a strong desire to belong and be in the company of others (Tuomela, 1995). Therefore, the role of social support in the lives of humans has been extensively discussed and researched. The definition of what social support consists of and how it should be measured has been a source of debate in relevant literature. This is because social support can be provided in various ways by one's support network and can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively. Social support can also be provided in various forms such as physical, mental and emotional (Heitzman & Kaplan, 1988). Despite the complexity of defining this construct, researchers have been able to agree on the positive links that exist between having social support networks and overall psychological wellbeing. This has been demonstrated by a negative correlation between high levels of social support and negative affect such as depression, self-esteem and loneliness found consistently by numerous studies (e.g. Elliott, Marmarosh, & Pickelman, 1994; Lara, Leader, & Klein, 1997; White, Bruce, Farrell, & Kliewer, 1998). These results have all indicated that higher levels of support likely acts as a buffer against some forms of psychological distress, particularly in times of increased stress or crisis (Flannery & Wieman, 1989; Holahan & Moos, 1981; Matt & Dean, 1993).
There may, however, be other factors which mediate the relationship between social support and psychological well-being. These factors might include the actual individuals who make up one's support network and the level or type of support received from them. It has been suggested that this support also differs between sexes and age groups (Coventry, Gillespie, Heath, & Martin, 2004). Despite this, research in the area has lacked and further investigation has been required to determine just how the people who make up the support network were utilised differently by males and females, and if this differed throughout the lifespan.
Not only has it been identified that these aspects of social support required further investigation, but that there may also be possible links between particular types of support and psychological distress. Despite the clear findings regarding the protective nature of social supports on psychological wellbeing, emerging findings on its links with psychological distress identified an area that too required addressing (Avioli, 1989; Chen & Feeley, 2012; Fisher, Nadler, & Whitcher-Alagna, 1982; Merz, Consedine-Schulze, & Schuengel , 2010; Searcy & Eisenberg, 1992). These researchers indicated that previously held beliefs with regard to social support generally being a positive influence in one's life, were unfounded and that careful consideration should be given to the specific support provider and support type before predicting its level of usefulness.
The focus of much of the research in this area was conducted in the 1980's and 1990's with a large percentage of recent works shifting direction to topics such as the impact of support on health (Bennett et al„ 2001; DiMatteo, 2004; Everard, Lach, Fisher, & Baum, 2000; Uchino, 2006; Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003. One such example of this was recent works by Jetten, Haslam and Haslam (2011). This book provided an in-depth overview of social identity theory including points regarding just how essential social contact and belonging can be for human beings, to the extent that is can act as protective factor both from illness itself and to also aid a better recovery from illness.
In the literature review presented below the conceptualisation and measurement of the construct social support is firstly explored. The literature on the following areas of interest are then reviewed: sex and age differences in social support, and the relationship between social support and psychological distress. Aims and hypothesis for the current study are then outlined.

Item Type: Thesis - Coursework Master
Authors/Creators:Lacey, CM
Keywords: Social networks, Stress tolerance (Psychology), Sex differences (Psychology)
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2012 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (MPsych(Clin))--University of Tasmania, 2013. Includes bibliographical references
Accompanying folder a .spv file.contains suopporting PDFs and a .spv file.

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