A survey of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients that looked at their sense of social identity based on their family relations — meant to help explain mood disorders like depression and anxiety seen in this population — found a clear link between the strength of family bonds and mood, a U.K. study based on that survey reports.
Disease symptoms, even the stress of an MS diagnosis, are possible explanations for the prevalence of mood disorders in patients, by causing changes in the person’s self-esteem. MS patients are known to show greater evidence of mood disorders than those with other neurologic disorders, the study noted.
Using a tool called the Social Identity Model of Identity Change (SIMIC) to pose questions, the researchers surveyed 195 people who either were being treated in the neurology department at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust or were recruited via the MS Society‘s research webpage. Participants’ mean age was 48, and 72.3 percent were women.
According to the study, the SIMIC “model suggests that maintaining group membership and taking on new identities after a life-changing transition can protect against the negative effects of identity change.”
Questions investigated if family identity could predict mood in MS patients, as the family is a key social group and one that can help in reconstructing identity after a diagnosis, and in providing social support. The researchers also tested if this prediction was due to the social support and connectedness to others, as defined by the SIMIC model.
Answers regarding family identity, family social support, connectedness to others, and mood were was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).
Results showed that family identity could predict mood in MS patients through mediators of family social support and connectedness to others, including the willingness to join new social groups.
“Family identity was found to be significantly positively correlated with family group social support and willingness to join new groups and negatively correlated with mood,” the researchers wrote, adding “the family and the wider social context should be considered in relation to low mood in people with MS.”
Based on the results, the team believes that “involving the family in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment of MS could increase support for the individual and reduce the high prevalence of mood disorders.”