Understanding the relationship of perceived social support to post-trauma cognitions and posttraumatic stress disorder


Poor social support in the aftermath of a traumatic event is a well-established risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among adult trauma survivors. Yet, a great deal about the relationship between social support and PTSD remains poorly understood. In this study, we analyzed data from 102 survivors of a serious motor vehicle accident (MVA) at 4 weeks (Time 1) and 16 weeks (Time 2) post-MVA. We assessed the role of perceived dyadic social support, positive dyadic interaction, and negative dyadic interaction in the development and maintenance of PTSD. In addition, we examined how these social support constructs work together with negative post-trauma cognitions to affect the maintenance of PTSD. Neither perceived social support nor the quality of social interaction (i.e., positive or negative) was associated with PTSD symptom severity at Time 1. However, among those with elevated PTSD symptom severity at Time 1, greater social support and positive social interaction and lower negative social interaction were each associated with reductions in PTSD symptom severity from Time 1 to Time 2. For social support and negative social interaction, this association ceased to be significant when jointly assessed with negative post-trauma cognitions, suggesting that perceived social support and negative dyadic interaction were associated with maintenance of PTSD symptom severity because of their association with negative post-trauma cognitions. These results provide support to models and treatments of PTSD that emphasize the role of negative post-trauma cognitions in maintenance of PTSD. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Publication Title

Journal of Anxiety Disorders