'All in the same boat'? Patient and carer attitudes to peer support and social comparison in Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
Locock L., Brown JB.
This paper explores attitudes to peer support among people with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and their family carers. It reports findings from a secondary analysis of data from two UK interview studies conducted by the authors. The process of secondary analysis is reported in detail. 48 people with MND and 22 carers were interviewed in 2005-2007. The authors identified narrative extracts on peer support from their own datasets and exchanged them for independent thematic analysis. Subsequent discussion, drawing on literature on support groups and social comparison, led to an exploration of two overarching themes: valuing camaraderie and comparison, and choosing isolation. Findings suggest that social comparison theory is a useful framework for analysing attitudes to MND support groups, but that on its own it is insufficient. 'Valuing camaraderie and comparison' explains how support groups offer practical and social support, as well as beneficial opportunities for social comparison. Seeing others coping well with the condition can provide hope, while downward comparison with those worse off can also make people feel better about their own situation. However, most people are also shocked and saddened by seeing others with the condition. Tension of identity can occur when group membership starts to define the individual as 'a person with MND, rather than the person I am that happens to have MND'. Choosing isolation can be a deliberate defensive strategy, to protect oneself from witnessing one's possible future. Levels of involvement may change over time as people struggle with their changing needs and fears.