Social networks, the 'work' and work force of chronic illness self-management: a survey analysis of personal communities

PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e59723. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059723. Epub 2013 Apr 2.

Abstract

Self-management support forms a central aspect of chronic Illness management nationally and globally. Evidence for the success of self-management support has mainly focussed on individually-centred outcomes of behavioural change. While it is recognised that social network members play an important role there is currently a gap in knowledge regarding who provides what type of support and under what circumstances. This is relevant for understanding the division of labour and the meeting of needs for those living with a long-term condition. We therefore took a network approach to explore self-management support conceptualising it as types of illness 'work' undertaken within peoples' social networks. 300 people from deprived areas and with chronic illnesses took part in a survey conducted in 2010 in the North West of England. A concentric circles diagram was used as a research tool with which participants identified 2,544 network members who contributed to illness management. The results provide an articulation of how social network members are substantially involved in illness management. Whilst partners and close family make the highest contributions there is evidence of inputs from a wide range of relationships. Network member characteristics (type of relationship, proximity, frequency of contact) impact on the amount of illness work undertaken in peoples' networks. In networks with 'no partner' other people tend to contribute more in the way of illness related work than in networks with a partner. This indicates a degree of substitutability between differently constituted networks, and that the level and type of input by different members of a network might change according to circumstances. A network perspective offers an opportunity to redress the balance of an exclusively individual focus on self-management because it addresses the broader set of contributions and resources available to people in need of chronic illness management and support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Care*
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This research has been funded by the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Greater Manchester. CLAHRC Greater Manchester is a partnership between the Greater Manchester NHS Trusts and the University of Manchester and is part of the National Institute for Health Research. The authors are members of the Patient Theme of CLAHRC for Greater Manchester. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.