Living with a Neurological Condition or Injury: The Power of Social Support

What is this research about? Social relationships are an important part of our lives. Social support refers to how much we feel we’re cared for by our friends, family, and spouse or partner. It also refers to our belief that we are an important part of a social group or network. A life with positive relationships is rewarding, enriched, and helpful during times of stress. Often we hear from people living with a neurological condition or injury tell us how important social well-being is for them. One person shared with us, “the constant love and support of family and friends, helped me overcome [my injury].” Another person told us “I wouldn’t be here except for my wife.” Research evidence has also found that social support has been linked to positive emotional health or “mood” in people living with a neurological condition or injury. 

What did the researchers do? We sent surveys to a large number of people to ask questions about social support, mood, and related symptoms.  Adults in our study had one of three conditions: multiple sclerosis (MS), muscular dystrophy (MD), or spinal cord injury (SCI). More than 1,400 people filled out the survey.  When we studied the answers, we first looked at differences in type of support, such as support from family, friend or a significant other.  We also looked at differences in support between the three conditions and age.  Last, we looked at the relationship between social support and mood.  We were also curious if there were any differences in social support by type of condition, age, or gender.

What did the researchers find? Overall, people living with MS, MD, and SCI reported similar levels of social support and we found no differences for the type of support - friends, family, and spouses or partners.  We found a trend with age – people who were older reported less social support compared to people who were younger or middle-aged. Women reported more support than men, especially for support from their friends.  Of note, we did find people living with a neurological condition or injury that felt they received more support were less likely to report low mood (such as feeling sad or down).  This relationship was strongest when people felt supported by their friends.  

How can you use this research?  The more information we have about the factors that influence mood and other parts of how people view their quality of life, the more we will be able to provide advice and design treatments that can help improve the wellness of adults living with a neurological condition or injury.  Our study builds on the understanding that social support is positively related to mood.  Based on our findings, we advise you to remain socially active in your community. Continue to build and strengthen your relationships.  Maintaining a strong support system may allow you to better handle difficult life transitions.  Some people have found that connecting with others who share the same condition is a great source of support. Here are some ways to see if there is a support group in your area:

What you need to know:

  • As people with MS, MD, or SCI age, it’s harder to maintain social relationships, especially those with a spouse or partner.
  • Men and women may experience social support differently.  Women report getting more support from their friends than men.
  • Social support is linked to mood.  When people living with MS, MD, or SCI feel supported, they are less likely to experience depression or depressive symptoms (feeling down).
  • Staying socially active and maintaining social relationships can help you maintain good emotional health and ward off depression.
  • Also, you may be interested in our factsheet on Depression or an article we wrote The Benefits of Physical and Social Activity.

Original Study: Jensen MP, Smith AE, Bombardier CH, Yorkston KM, Miró J, Molton IR. "Social support, depression, and physical disability: Age and diagnostic group effects." Disabil Health J. 2014;7(2):164-72

About the researcher(s):  Mark Jensen is a rehabilitation psychologist who has more than 20 years of experience working with people living and aging with MS, MD, SCI, and other neurological conditions and injuries. Dr. Jensen is also known world-wide for his work in treating chronic pain with hypnosis.