The role of constructed meaning in adaptation to the onset of life-threatening illness

Indiana University School of Nursing, Cancer Center, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 12/2005; 61(10):2132-43. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.04.026
Source: PubMed


Do the meanings inherent within a traumatic life event increase our understanding of differential mental health outcomes? In light of this question two central issues are addressed in this article: (1) what variables influence the meaning that is constructed in response to a crisis, and (2) how does this meaning affect the self and ultimately the adaptation/mental health outcome as indicated by the level of emotional distress? A theoretical model is evaluated via a comparative analysis that incorporates the data of 76 persons with cancer and 130 persons with HIV/AIDS. Three primary findings support this model and the significance of the role of meaning in response to a crisis: (1) the meaning constructed in response to a crisis can be operationalized and its role evaluated as a dimension of the adaptation process, (2) evidence indicates constructed meaning affects self-perception, which subsequently affects adaptation, and (3) the pattern of effects does not differ by illness type since analyses indicate meaning is central to individuals' responses regardless of differences in characteristics of the event.

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    • "In contrast to the ample evidence documenting associations between social support and HIV stigma, investigations of positive personal meaning and HIV stigma are almost nonexistent. In the only published study we are aware of in this area, internalized stigma was shown along with coping behavior and personal control in a multivariate model to be correlated with illness-related meaning construction in a sample of individuals living with cancer or HIV disease (Fife, 2005). Specifically, higher internalized stigma was associated with less favorable meaning construction in this cross-sectional study. "
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    ABSTRACT: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) stigma represents a significant source of stress among individuals living with HIV disease, prompting interest in research to identify factors that may help to ameliorate the stress burden associated with HIV stigma. Consistent with this research line, the current study was conducted as a cross-sectional investigation examining associations between positive global personal meaning, social support, and perceived HIV stigma. Global personal meaning refers to beliefs and aspirations through which one ascribes value and purpose in living. The study sample was comprised of individuals living with HIV disease who presented for an initial visit in a specialty HIV mental health services program. In bivariate analyses, social support was negatively correlated with multidimensional aspects of HIV stigma that included distancing, blaming, and discrimination stigma, whereas personal meaning was negatively associated only with blaming stigma. In further analyses using structural equation modeling, social support significantly mediated the association between personal meaning and both distancing and blaming stigma. Interactions between positive personal meaning and social support may be useful to consider in future research on psychological resource factors and HIV stigma. Understanding these interactions may also inform clinical efforts to address HIV stigma concerns.
    Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings 05/2014; 21(2). DOI:10.1007/s10880-014-9394-3 · 1.49 Impact Factor
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    • "Illness appraisals have been assessed both quantitatively (e.g., Meaning of Illness Questionnaire[13] IPQ [23]), and qualitatively [24–26]. This previous work demonstrates that illness appraisals change over time [20], influence decision-making and subsequent health behaviors [27,28], may be central to the understanding of how the individual copes with chronic illness [14,16,26,29], and can be modified through targeted interventions [30,31]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Illness appraisals provide important context to help understand the way individuals cope with chronic illness. In the present study, a qualitative approach to the analysis of HIV diagnosis experience narratives in a sample of 100 people newly diagnosed with HIV revealed five groups that differed in their initial illness appraisals: HIV as Chronic Illness, Concern about Dying, Stigmatization, Threat to Identity, and Other Threats Overshadow HIV. When compared on quantitatively measured depressive mood, the groups differed on level and trajectory over the course of the first year post-diagnosis. Although the experience of living with HIV has changed significantly with the advent of effective Antiretroviral Therapies (ART), there were a number of similarities between the appraisals of this group of participants who were diagnosed post ART and groups who were diagnosed before ART became widely available. Posttest counselors and other HIV service providers should take individual differences in illness appraisals into account in order to help newly HIV-positive clients manage their healthcare and cope adaptively with their diagnosis.
    PLoS ONE 10/2013; 8(10):e78904. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0078904 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    • "The ability to make meaning out of a cancer diagnosis has been associated with good quality of life and psychosocial adjustment (Eton et al., 2005; Fife, 2005; Park, 2005). Much attention in this area has been devoted to the finding of positive meaning. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: Experiencing cancer can give rise to existential concerns causing great distress, and consequently drive individuals to make sense of what cancer may mean to their lives. To date, meaning-based research in the context of cancer has largely focused on one possible outcome of this process, the emergence of positive meanings (e.g. post-traumatic growth). However, negative meanings may also be ascribed to cancer, simultaneously with positive meanings. This study focused on the nature of the co-existence of positive and negative meanings in a sample of individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer to find out whether negative meaning had an impact on quality of life and psychosocial adjustment above and beyond positive meaning. Methods: Participants were given questionnaires measuring meaning-made, quality of life, and psychological distress. Semi structured interviews were conducted with a subgroup from the original sample. Results: Hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that negative meaning-made (i.e. helplessness) was a significant predictor of poor quality of life and increased levels of depression/anxiety above and beyond positive meaning-made (i.e. life meaningfulness, acceptance, and perceived benefits). Correlational analyses and interview data revealed that negative meaning-made was mainly associated with physical and functional disability, while positive meaning-made was mostly related to emotional and psychological well-being. Significance of results: Meanings of varying valence may simultaneously be ascribed to cancer as it impacts different life dimensions, and they may independently influence quality of life and psychosocial adjustment. The presence of positive meaning was not enough to prevent the detrimental effects of negative meaning on psychosocial adjustment and quality of life among individuals taking part in this study. Future attention to negative meaning is warranted, as it may be at least as important as positive meaning in predicting psychosocial adjustment and quality of life following a cancer diagnosis.
    Palliative and Supportive Care 10/2013; 12(4):1-10. DOI:10.1017/S1478951513000151 · 0.98 Impact Factor
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