MARITAL RELATIONSHIP STATUS, SOCIAL SUPPORT AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING AMONG RURAL, LOW-INCOME MOTHERS

Postgraduate

ABSTRACT

This study examined the relationship between marriage, social support, and psychological health among impoverished, rural mothers.  While research suggests marital status and social support are negatively correlated with depression, research investigating such relationships and effects on poor, rural mothers over time is scant. 

To examine the roles of marital status, social support, and time on depression, mean comparison and analysis of variance were run for depression levelsa cross time, categories of partnership, categories of social support, and categories of change in marital status over time. While findings revealed that marital status had little effect on depression levels, social support appeared to be negatively correlated with depression.  Furthermore, mothers who maintained marital status and reported high social support reported the lowest depression levels.  Findings contribute to the limited body of research focusing on health in rural areas and yield valuable knowledge about the experience of psychological health among impoverished, rural mothers.

Introduction

Psychological well-being is defined as possessing the capacity for good decisionmaking, effective stress management, good communication skills, effective parenting, and caring for oneself emotionally, according to Dr. Donald Franklin (2003).  Others define psychological well-being as a general reference to feelings of happiness and hopefulness (Marks, 1996; Ross et al., 1990).  As these definitions illustrate, psychological health affects many aspects of life. 

While some research has specifically measured psychological health by examining happy and hopeful feelings, most research measures psychological distress or the absence of psychological well-being (Coiro, 2001; Dooley & Prause, 2002; Hoyt et al, 1997).  Psychological distress most commonly consists of feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, abnormal eating and sleeping patterns, and irritability, which are symptoms that commonly occur when experiencing depression (Ross et al., 1990).  Psychological distress is frequently characterized as depression.  Much of the research on marital status and well-being uses scores on measures of depression as an indicator of psychological distress (Brown, Brody, & Stoneman, 2000; Brown, Abe-Kim, & Barrio, 2003; Kim & McKenry, 2002; Lamb, Lee, & DeMarris, 2003). Distress can also be identified by measures of anxiety, happiness, and self-esteem (Horwitz & White, 1991).

Although psychological well-being is an internal state, it is affected by external factors.  Some influential external factors include: economic stability, interpersonal and intimate relationships, and perceived social support.  Geographic location and race/ethnicity play significant roles in how economic status, marital status, and social support affect psychological health.  Healthy psychological well-being is reflective of an above poverty financial standing, the presence of intimate relationships, and the perception of social support. 

In contrast, unhealthy, low psychological well-being reflects below poverty economic status, few or no intimate relationships, and little or no perceived social support.  Research supports these impacts of economic, emotional and intimate support, and social support (Belle, 1990) on psychological well-being and raises questions for additional research:  What makes these dimensions of life functioning influential?  More importantly, what happens when any of these dimensions are diminished or absent?  This study focuses on the impact of intimate and social support on psychological well-being measured by depression scores of impoverished, rural mothers.

Psychological Well-Being and Poverty

A substantial amount of research documents the relationship between psychological health and poverty (Amato & Zuo, 1992; Bruce, Takeuchi, & Leaf, 1991; Coiro, 2001; Dooley & Prause, 2002; Murry et al., 2002; Ross, 2000).  Research suggests that continual economic hardships increase the risk for experiencing depression (Bruce et al, 1991; Hoyt et al., 1997; Human & Wasem, 1991; McGrath, Keita, Strickland, & Russo, 1990).  Studies find poverty to be one of the life conditions associated with poor psychological health (McGrath et al., 1990; Rank, 2000).  Webster (1995) defines poverty as a state, condition, or quality of being poor, having little or no money. 

According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, someone living in poverty has a total income less than an amount that is deemed to be sufficient to purchase basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and other essential goods and services (2003).  The 2000 Census revealed that poverty affected

34.6 million (12.1%) of the U.S. population (Proctor & Dalaker, 2002).  Therefore, many people who experience the various disadvantages of low income are at risk for poor psychological well-being.