Social support in health and illness: the concept and its measurement

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The role of social support in health and disease recently has received considerable attention in the literature. Social support has been identified as a protector factor buffering the effects of stressor factors in the etiology of disease. Considerable research data exist tying stressor factors to disease etiology, and, an increasing amount exists concerning social support as a protector factor. However, the dynamics aspects of social support during the illness experience and its potential role in facilitating coping with disease has not been explored.

The stressor concept has been used in research on the etiology of cancer. The general concept of buffer factors and, in particular, social support, has not been used much in looking at the etiology of cancer or coping with the presence of cancer, though it would seem to have great implications for the cancer patient.

A global measure of stressor variables has been developed and used extensively in research on disease etiology. The lack of an adequate instrument to measure social support remains as a serious problem for research on the effects of this variable in disease etiology and coping with disease. This article documents past efforts to conceptualize social support, suggests some conceptual refinement, and proposes some guidelines for developing measurement of social support in health and illness.

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