Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

PhD Counseling Psychology

Department

Professional Psychology and Family Therapy

Advisor

Pamela Foley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Smith, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Mary E. Kelly, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brian Amorello, Ph.D.

Keywords

multiple sclerosis, social support, anxiety, depression

Abstract

ABSTRACT

There have been many significant findings and contributions to the literature on multiple sclerosis (MS) concerning both physical and mental well-being of individuals who are diagnosed with this illness. While MS is more commonly known now, more than before, there are many obstacles and challenges individuals diagnosed with MS face than people realize. Symptoms that affect individuals with MS are not easily recognized such as fatigue, blurry vision, issues with dexterity, bodily pain, numbness in extremities, and more. Due to the nature of this disease, and many adaptations in life individuals have to make due to their symptoms, studies have shown this population significantly suffers from anxious and depressive symptoms and disorders. A risk factor for these mental health issues is being of the female gender, and as there are more women afflicted with MS than men, they were the primary focus of this study.

Social support has been found in previous studies to have a positive effect on anxious and depressive symptoms, decreasing their presence in individuals with MS. Other studies found, however, that this was not the case. It was important in this study to distinguish perceived social support versus desired social support and that, perhaps, this was a defining feature in mixed results in the literature. The purpose of this study was to determine if a match or mismatch in social support affected anxious or depressive symptoms in women with MS.

Social support groups were created based on the perceived and desired social support of each participant: null support, positive congruent support, support omission, and support commission. These four categories were also distinguished by matched social support (null support, positive congruent support) and mismatched social support (support omission, support commission). An additional important exploration for MS literature was the differences in women with relapsing-remitting (RRMS) and primary progressive (PPMS). This study focused on the anxious and depressive symptoms in the four social support groups as well as the potential differences in women with RRMS versus PPMS.

The results were mixed, with results pointing to anxious symptoms having a significant relationship with social support, while depressive symptoms did not. The analyses, however, found that there was a negative relationship between anxious symptoms and social support, a surprise, but not unheard of in past studies. Due to a low number of participants with PPMS, the data were unable to support hypotheses comparing individuals with RRMS and PPMS.

A significant aspect of this study was the timing of data collection. Data were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is discussed, along with other limitations that promote future studies, exploring the relationship between social support and anxious and depressive symptoms.

Keywords: multiple sclerosis, social support, anxiety, depression

Available for download on Saturday, June 17, 2023

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