Social support is considered to be one of the most important resources for coping with cancer. However, social interactions may also be detrimental, e. g. disappointing or discouraging. The present study explored: 1. the extent of illness-specific positive aspects of social support and detrimental interactions in melanoma survivors, 2. their relationships to mental health characteristics (e. g. distress, quality of life, fatigue, coping processes, and dispositional optimism) and 3. Combinations of positive social support and detrimental interactions in relation to depression and anxiety.
Based on the cancer registry of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, melanoma patients diagnosed at least 5 years before the survey were contacted by their physicians. N = 689 melanoma patients filled out the Illness-specific Social Support Scale ISSS (German version) and standardised instruments measuring potential psychosocial determinants of social support.
Using principal component analysis, the two factor structure of the ISSS could be reproduced with acceptable reliability; subscales were “Positive Support” (PS) and “Detrimental Interactions” (DI); Cronbach’s α = .95/.72. PS was rated higher than DI. Multivariable linear regressions identified different associations with psychosocial determinants. Survivors living in a partnership and those actively seeking out support had a higher probability of receiving PS, but not DI. PS and DI interacted regarding their association with distress: Survivors reporting high DI but low PS were the most depressed and anxious. High DI was partly buffered by PS. When DI was low, high or low PS made no difference regarding distress.
Psycho-oncologic interventions should take into account both positive and negative aspects of support in order to promote coping with the disease.