Changes in perceived social support predict changes in depressive symptoms in adults with physical disability

Disabil Health J. 2019 Apr;12(2):214-219. doi: 10.1016/j.dhjo.2018.09.005. Epub 2018 Oct 5.


Background: Perceived social support has been found to be associated with depression, subjective well-being and psychological health in cross-sectional studies in people with physical disabilities. No longitudinal studies have been conducted to examine these associations over time using a comprehensive measure of social support.

Objective/hypothesis: We hypothesized that: (1) the amount of perceived social support would be similar across individuals with different diagnoses often associated with disability (i.e., multiple sclerosis [MS], spinal cord injury [SCI], muscular dystrophy [MD]) but (2) lower among men, relative to women, and (3) changes over time in perceived social support would be negatively associated with changes in depressive symptoms across diagnostic groups.

Methods: A survey-based six-year longitudinal study. Depressive symptoms were measured with the PROMIS Depression scale. General (Total Scale), Friend, Family and Significant Other social support were measured with the Multi-dimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS).

Results: The findings indicated no significant differences in any of the perceived social support scales as a function of diagnosis or sex. However, over the course of six years, those reporting increases in social support reported decreases in depressive symptoms, while those reporting decreases in social support reported increases in depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Changes in perceived social support are inversely related with the changes in depressive symptoms in adults with MS, SCI, and MD. Social support would be a reasonable treatment target in interventions seeking to improve psychological wellbeing in individuals with conditions that are often associated with disabilities.

Keywords: Aging; Depression; Longitudinal study; Physical disabilities; Social support.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Muscular Dystrophies / psychology*
  • Social Support*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires