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Who Talks? The Social Psychology of Illness Support Groups


The researchers delved into the fascinating realm of self-help for health behaviors in America. They discovered that mutual support groups, which are low-cost or free for participants, have a profound impact on mental and physical health. However, little is known about the patterns of support group participation in healthcare, specifically what motivates patients to seek each other's company.


In a groundbreaking study, the researchers measured support group participation for 20 disease categories across four major metropolitan areas and two online forums. They found that support seeking was highest for diseases perceived as stigmatizing, such as AIDS, alcoholism, breast and prostate cancer, while it was lowest for disorders that may not carry as much social embarrassment but are equally devastating, such as heart disease. The implications of these findings for social comparison theory and its application in healthcare are thought-provoking and discussed in detail.


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