Social networks, social capital and chronic illness self-management: a realist review

Chronic Illn. 2011 Mar;7(1):60-86. doi: 10.1177/1742395310383338. Epub 2010 Oct 4.


Background: Existing literature on the design of interventions and health policy about self-management have tended to focus on individual-centred definitions of self-care and there is growing recognition of the need to extend consideration beyond individual factors, which determine self-care, to examine wider influences such as the health service, the family and the wider social context.

Aims: To explore the theoretical and empirical links between social networks, social capital and the self-care practices associated with chronic illness work and management in the context of people's everyday lives.

Method: A realist review method was used to search and appraise relevant quantitative and qualitative literature.

Findings: The review findings indicate that social networks play an important part in the management of long-term conditions. We found that social networks tend to be defined narrowly and are primarily used as a way of acknowledging the significance of context. There is insufficient discussion in the literature of the specific types of networks that support or undermine self-care as well as an understanding of the processes involved. This necessitates shifting the emphasis of self-care towards community and network-centred approaches, which may also prove more appropriate for engaging people in socially and economically deprived contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Chronic Disease / therapy
  • Community Health Services
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Care / psychology*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support*