A study of 300 people with chronic heart disease has found that social involvement with a wider variety of people and groups supports personal self-management and physical and mental well-being.
Social networks have been seen as playing a potentially important but relatively unspecified role in providing self-management support for long term conditions and this study was motivated by the idea that these provide people with long term conditions access to relationships and resources which can support them in managing their condition(s). This study has demonstrated associations between the properties of an individual’s social network and positive outcomes for health. Of most note are three findings which indicate that: (1) social involvement with wider resources (e.g. community groups) supports personal self-management and physical and mental well-being; (2) that the support work undertaken by personal networks expands in accordance with health needs and that this helps people cope practically and emotionally with their condition but does not impact on health per se; and (3) that network support substitutes for formal care and can produce substantial savings in traditional health service utilisation costs.
With regard to social involvement, being connected to voluntary and community groups was related to key dimensions of self-management (self-monitoring and skill and technique acquisition, as measured by the HEIQ), as well as to better physical health and emotional well-being. Significantly, social involvement was also associated with the maintenance of healthy behaviours over time, with these behaviours declining in patients who had no links to community groups or organisations. Although this analysis does not reveal the precise nature and directions of these relationships, the findings do suggest that social involvement may impact on personal capabilities to self-manage, possibly through the provision of sources for information but more likely as a means of keeping the individual engaged and active in normal life. The association of help given to others with better self-management and physical health scores highlights the importance of activities which are reciprocal as well as altruistic in promoting good self-management. The gaining of independence and autonomy through social networks outside of the immediate domestic environment has been highlighted previously; in this respect links to groups which allow for social involvement may perform a similar function for people with a chronic condition.