Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Sarah Harcourt Thewlis 

MSc Cyberpsychology

IADT graduate with a BSc in Applied Psychology and MSc in Cyberpsychology. Keen interest in all areas of Cyberpsychology, with a particular focus in social media usage and social support and its impact on health-related concerns.

The Role of Online Social Support for Individuals Living with Disabilities and Chronic Illness: Investigating Stress, Resilience and Positive Mental

This study investigated the role of online social support for individuals with disabilities and chronic illness and its impact on stress, resilience and positive mental health. Disability and chronic illness (DCI) can severely impact an individual’s life, negatively impacting one’s physical, behavioural, social, and psychological well-being. As DCI is typically a lifelong condition, it is of great importance to examine what factors can positively impact such an individual’s life, with stress, depression and anxiety three times more likely to be experienced. Resilience has been found to act as a significant protector against the negative impacts of DCI while also positively impacting mental health. Furthermore, social support has been found to have the ability to impact such outcomes by empowering the individual and improving positive outcomes. This study addressed the perceived gap in literature, with no previous study to date having investigated the combined variables in a population of DCI individuals with a diverse range of health conditions.

Project Objectives

The objective of this study was to recruit participants who identified as disabled or living with a chronic illness and to examine if there was a significant difference in participants stress, resilience and positive mental health scores according to the grouping level of social support, individuals who participated in an online social support group compared to those who did not. An online convenience sampling method was employed for recruitment, with the use of four questionnaires to measure the variables in this study, the Wellbeing Index -WHO-5 (WHO, 1998), the Brief Resilience Scale (BRS) (Smith et al., 2008), the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10) (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1994) and the Medical Outcome Study Social Support Survey (MOS) (Sherbourne & Stewart, 1993). Two research questions were posed, will engagement in an online support group for individuals living with disabilities and chronic illness affect one’s stress, resilience, and positive mental health and will there be a significant difference between stress, resilience and positive mental health. While 5 hypothesis were posed, that there will be a difference for participants stress, resilience and positive mental health scores based on engagement in an online support group, that there will be a difference for participants stress and resilience scores based on positive mental health (low, medium, high) and finally that there will be a difference for participants stress scores based on resilience (low, medium, high).

Project Outcomes

The first three hypotheses were rejected due to lack of significant difference, however hypothesis four and five were accepted. The significant finding that positive mental health has a significant impact on stress and resilience and that resilience has a significant impact on stress, adds to current knowledge in literature. Furthermore, such findings support the continued investigation of this research topic having highlighted the importance of psychological interventions in the treatment of DCI. However, as online social support was found to have no significant impact on stress, resilience and positive mental health, such findings, although not all significant, have aided in addressing the gap in literature in this topic. It must also be noted that such insignificant findings may have occurred due to limitations of this study. The possible implications of covid-19 restrictions on data collection and the negative implications of living through a pandemic were not accounted for as a confounding variable. Future research in this area, if it were to occur during the pandemic, would benefit by taking this into account. Finally, a strength of this study was the unrestricting of health conditions during recruitment was used in an effort to recruit a diverse range of participants with the aim to be representative of the DCI population as a whole.