Social Networks and Chronic Mental Illness

A Test of Four Perspectives

Published in: Social Problems, v. 44, no. 2, May 1997, p. 200-216

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1996

by Sarah Rosenfield, Suzanne L. Wenzel

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Although many studies describe the social networks of people with chronic mental illness, little is known about the effects of these networks on well-being. This research tests four perspectives on social relations and quality of life, all of which hold that dimensions of networks shape life satisfaction by affecting self-esteem. However, these perspectives disagree about which particular dimension is consequential: relationships with Insiders vs. Outsiders, the extent of supportive relationships, or the number of negative ties. The authors test these perspectives using longitudinal data on 137 individuals with chronic mental illness. Results show that the proportion of Insiders or Outsiders makes little difference for quality of life. However, increases in the number of supportive relationships improves life quality. Moreover, negative interactions have a strong detrimental effect on life satisfaction. Further analyses show that supportive and negative relationships affect life quality, respectively, by increasing or decreasing individuals' self-esteem.

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