JENKINS, SUSAN CAROL; PHD

                        UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND COLLEGE PARK, 1985
                        PSYCHOLOGY, CLINICAL (0622)

                         The impact of social support on psychological adjustment has been a focus of research in community
                         psychology for several years. Investigators have demonstrated that social support either buffers the
                         effects of stress on psychological adjustment or has a direct effect on psychological adjustment. This
                         study examined the effects of social support and selected social network characteristics on the
                         psychological adjustment of individuals who are primary caregivers of a severely mentally ill family
                         member. The stress variable in this study was operationalized by the amount of behavioral disturbance
                         exhibited by the mentally ill family member. Low levels of disturbance constituted low stress; higher
                         levels of disturbance constituted greater stress. It was hypothesized that social support would mediate
                         the relationship between the stress associated with the mentally ill family member's disturbance and the
                         caregiver's psychological adjustment, such that there would be little or no stress with high levels of social
                         support, and greater stress with low levels of social support. Seventy primary caregivers of a mentally ill
                         family member were administered (1) social network and social support questionnaires, (2) a measure of
                         the specific stressor associated with their family member's disturbance (Katz Adjustment Scale) and a
                         measure of their own general life change (Social Readjustment Rating Scale), and (3) a measure of their
                         own psychological adjustment (SCL-90). Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were used to examine
                         the extent to which social support and stress variables predicted the caregivers' psychological
                         adjustment. A specific statistical interaction between the stress and social support variables was
                         necessary to provide support for the buffering hypothesis. The hypothesis that social support mediates
                         stress and psychological adjustment was not confirmed. Instead, main effects on psychological
                         adjustment were found for some stress and social support variables. In all cases in which main effects
                         were found, these effects were in the predicted direction. This study's implications were related to
                         general issues in social support research, and specific issues concerning family members of severely
                         mentally ill individuals. It was concluded that refinement of research methodology and instruments is
                         crucial to the viability and development of social support theory. Some suggestions were also made for
                         intervention strategies with family member caregivers of the mentally ill. (Abstract shortened with
                         permission of author.)


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