PETERS, LARRY; PHD

                         THE UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN (CANADA), 1983

                         PSYCHOLOGY, SOCIAL (0451)

                         This study investigated the relationship between social support and psychological distress, with specific
                         attention to identifying those structural and functional dimensions of social support associated with
                         psychological adjustment to widowhood among elderly women. Two primary interests were: (1) the
                         processes by which social support may accomplish a health-promotive function for elderly widows, and
                         (2) the structure of interpersonal ties that provide optimal access to support. The sample consisted of 50
                         widows living in the community, whose husbands had died 6 to 54 months prior to data collection. The
                         mean age of the widows was 71.1 years and the mean length of time widowed was 26.8 months. All data
                         were collected during a single structured interview in the subject's home. Psychological distress was
                         measured using the Affect Balance Scale (Bradburn, 1969) and the General Health Questionnaire
                         (Goldberg, 1972). The structural dimension of social support was measured in terms of such social
                         network characteristics as size, density, family/friend composition, frequency, reciprocity, durability and
                         multiplexity. The functional dimension of social support was measured primarily in terms of the perceived
                         availability and adequacy of emotional support, companionship, tangible assistance, and cognitive
                         guidance. Correlational and multiple regression were the statistical methods used. Full or partial support
                         was attained for most, but not all of the hypotheses. Specifically, at the structural level, findings indicated
                         that larger support networks, characterized by a high degree of reciprocity, more multiplex relationships,
                         and a high frequency of contact were significantly associated with greater availability of social support.
                         Network density and family/friend composition were also significantly related to greater availability of
                         social support, but varied inversely depending on the widows' desire for lifestyle change. At the
                         functional level, while the availability of all four types of support were significantly related to an absence of
                         psychological distress, a network in which friends were key sources of support and in which friends
                         emphasized the provision of emotional support and companionship appeared to be most
                         health-promotive for elderly widows. No significant relationships were found between psychological
                         distress and evaluations of the supportive adequacy of networks, or the number of network members
                         identified as sources of stress. Recommendations for further research and potential implications of the
                         data are discussed.


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