The meaning of social support for persons with serious mental illness

Julie Chronister, Chih Chin Chou, Kwong Liem Karl Kwan, Melissa Lawton, Kurt Silver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objective: This study sought to better understand the population-specific types of social support relevant to adults living with serious mental illness (SMI). Our study was exploratory and used a qualitative approach that centered on uncovering the types of social support meaningful and relevant to persons with SMI. Method: The sample comprised of 52 adults receiving county mental health services in the San Francisco Bay Area. Data was gathered from 6 focus groups and analyzed using NVivo10 and Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR; Hill et al., 2005; Hill et al., 1997). Results: Six qualitative domains were identified: (a) supportive conditions, (b) day-to-day living, (c) illness management, (d) resources and information, (e) guidance and advice, and (f) community participation support. Discussion: While the 6 support domains share some broad-based conceptual underpinnings with traditional models of emotional and instrumental support, the domains emerging from our study represent supports uniquely tied to the stressors associated with living with SMI, and therefore hold conceptual distinction from traditional types of support. Conclusions/Implications: Findings from this study offer a conceptual framework for understanding social support for persons living with SMI and lay the groundwork for the development of a SMI-specific measure of social support. In addition, our research permits future researchers to investigate the conditions under which social support buffers the impact of SMI stressors, assisting service providers in more effective identification of individual support needs for clinical intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-245
Number of pages14
JournalRehabilitation Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Serious mental illness
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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