Solace in solidarity: Disability friendship networks buffer well-being

Rehabil Psychol. 2017 Nov;62(4):525-533. doi: 10.1037/rep0000128. Epub 2017 Apr 10.


Purpose/objective: To determine whether having friends who share one's disability experiences is associated with higher well-being, and whether these friendships buffer well-being from disability-related stressors. Research Method/Design: In 2 cross-sectional studies, adults with long-term physical disabilities identified close friends who shared their diagnosis. We assessed well-being as a function of the number of friends that participants identified in each group. Study 1 included 71 adults with legal blindness living in the United States, while Study 2 included 1,453 adults in the United States with either muscular dystrophy (MD), multiple sclerosis (MS), post-polio syndrome (PPS), or spinal cord injury (SCI).

Results: In Study 1, having more friends sharing a blindness diagnosis was associated with higher life satisfaction, even controlling for the number of friends who were not blind. In Study 2, Participants with more friends sharing their diagnosis reported higher quality of life and satisfaction with social role participation. Participants with more friends sharing their diagnosis also showed and attenuated associations between the severity of their functional impairment and their quality of life and social role satisfaction, suggesting that their friendships buffered the impact of their functional impairment on well-being. Participants reporting more friends with any physical disability showed similar benefits.

Conclusions/implications: Friends with disabilities can offer uniquely important informational and emotional support resources that buffer the impact of a functional impairment on well-being. Psychosocial interventions should help people with long-term disabilities build their peer support networks. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult