Social support is often cited as a protective factor against stress for both cancer patients and their family caregivers, although existing literature focus on social support perceived either by patients or by caregivers alone. Little is known about the role of social support in a patient-caregiver dyad in mediating stress and mental health outcome. This study aimed to explore whether patient's perceived social support is associated with caregiver's mental well-being, and vice versa.
236 pairs of Chinese cancer patients and their family caregivers completed questionnaires on their perceived social support (Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale), mood (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), and self-reported mental health (Short Form-12).
Perceived social support reported by cancer patients correlated significantly with that by their caregivers (support from friends: r = .474; support from family: r = .432). Regression analyses with caregiver's and patient's perceived social support entered as possible predictors showed that (a) patient's own perceived support from family and friends were associated with patient's mental health (betas = .160 and .267), mood (betas = -.303 and -.275), and perceived stress (betas = -.364 and -.148); (b) caregiver's own perceived family support was the only significant association with mental health (beta = .192) and mood (beta = -.254); and (c) caregiver's perceived stress was associated with perceived family support reported both by own and by patient (betas = -.156 and -.203).
The current findings suggest that while Chinese cancer patients with support from either friends or family cope better, for caregivers it is family support that appears to have the protective effect. Patient-reported family support, presumably a proxy index of patient-caregiver relationship, appears to affect caregiver’s stress.