Year of Publication

2012

Season of Publication

Spring

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in General Psychology (MAGP)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Daniel Richard

Second Advisor

Dr. Lori Lange

Department Chair

Dr. Michael Toglia

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick

Abstract

Having a chronic illness may feel alienating, yet examination of the literature shows limited research on social connectedness and health. In order to contribute to the understanding of this impact of illness, I examined perceived levels of social connectedness in persons with chronic diseases (CD), functional somatic syndromes (FSS) and medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). A major focus of this study was to investigate the association of social connectedness with depression, anxiety, and general health in patients with ongoing symptoms of illness. Data collection was obtained through the use of four online surveys collectively known as VOICE (Verification of Coping, Illness and Experience). For the purposes of this study, five measures were used: the Social Connectedness Scale, Short Form Health Survey (SF-36), Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-8), Hopkins Symptoms Checklist (HSCL) and the Social Impact Scale. Participants were recruited through announcements via online message boards and support groups, as well as through the distribution of brochures in local medical practices. A total of 148 participants (80% female) completed all four surveys. Results indicated that the chronic illness groups did not significantly differ in social connectedness, although there was some indication that the FSS group felt more social isolation. Regression analyses indicated that, while accounting for socio-cultural and health factors, social connectedness was the strongest predictor of depression (β = - .43, p < .001), anxiety (β = -.48, p < .001) and general health (β = .34, p < .001) in chronically ill persons. The independent and robust relationship of social connectedness with psychological and physical health in individuals with chronic illness suggests that this is an important factor deserving of future research with important clinical applications.

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