July 26, 2018 | News | Living with MS

Social support vital to health and well-being

If you’re living with multiple sclerosis, your social support network (real, not online) plays an essential role in helping you to cope with your illness. That’s the conclusion of a new study that looked at the impact of social networks on a person’s quality of life (Costa and colleagues. Arq Neuropsiquiatr 2017;75:267-271).

“Social support networks” is a loosely-defined term. But it essentially means the people with whom you have an emotional connection – those you can turn to for advice, encouragement, financial or emotional support.

The present study involved 150 adults with MS living in Portugal. The average age was 42 years, and people had typically been living with MS for nine years. Two-thirds were married, 17% were single, 11% were divorced and 6% were widowed.

When asked, ‘How many relatives can you trust to talk to about almost anything?’, most people said one or two relatives (53%), 37% said more than two relatives, and 10% said none. When asked ‘How many friends can you trust to talk to about almost anything?’, 40% of people said one or two friends, about one-third said more than two friends, and 25% said they had no friends they could talk to about their MS.

The study also found that most people had no involvement with support meetings (79%), sports groups (73%), or volunteer work (85%).

So for most people, the social support network is made up of one or two relatives, and one or two friends.

The researchers then compared the information on people’s social networks with questionnaire results about quality of life. They found that the number of relatives you can talk to about your MS, as well as participation in support group meetings, sports activities, and volunteer work were all independently correlated with better physical and mental health and well-being. The number of friends had a positive impact on a person’s mental health, but not on their physical health.

The researchers concluded that a social support network is important in helping a person with MS cope with their illness and adapt to daily circumstances. Friends, family, and community ties help to relieve some of the feelings of isolation and apartness, provide a sense of connectedness, and improve a person’s sense of well-being.

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