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date: 25 April 2018

Summary and Keywords

Social support in the context of chronic illness management is important, as individuals diagnosed with these conditions and their loved ones often experience increased distress, reduced relational quality, and diminished physical health as a result of coping with these long-term symptoms. Therefore, diagnosed individuals and their close relational partners rely on others to provide support in their time of need. The communication of social support is characterized by “verbal and nonverbal behavior produced with the intention of providing assistance to others perceived of needing that aid” (MacGeorge, Feng, & Burleson, 2011, p. 317). Individuals living with these chronic illnesses and their loved ones often turn to a variety of interpersonal others, including friends, family, health care providers, and support groups to manage the difficulties that accompany their physical symptoms. Although some researchers suggest that diagnosed individuals seek support most frequently from close relational partners, other scholars assert that chronic care support groups (whether meeting face to face or via computer-mediated channels) offer support recipients an opportunity to discuss their challenges and receive help from experientially similar others.

On the one hand, regardless of the support provider, individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic conditions generally perceive effective supportive communication to be messages in which their support providers enact competent tangible assistance in managing the illness, provide an opportunity for them to vent their feelings, and express messages of empathy and affection, among others. Ineffective messages, on the other hand, are those in which diagnosed individuals feel their partners are overly involved in helping them make decisions about their care or portraying negative attitudes or discomfort around them. Overall, research in this area suggests that support recipients and their relational partners have improved emotional, relational, and physical outcomes when they perceive support to be available or receive effective support from these resources.

Keywords: social support, coping, chronic illness management, support groups, caregiver burden

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