AMARI: the African Mental Health Research Initiative

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Lay Summary of systematic review: “A systematic review of the psychometric properties of the cross-cultural translations and adaptations of the Multidimensional Perceived Social Support Scale (MSPSS)”

Jermaine Dambi, AMARI PhD Fellow

Jermaine Dambi, AMARI PhD Fellow

By Jermaine Dambi

Given the increase in mental health disorders, there is a strong push in providing support services to people living/suffering from mental illnesses. Science has shown that people who receive an adequate amount of social support are likely to have improved quality of life. Social support is a very subjective concept and is viewed differently from one setting to another. The perceptions of social support are dependent on; culture, how one was socialised and most importantly available resources. Resources can range from finances, emotional support and professional support through the provision of treatment and adequate information which enables one to cope with stressful life events.

However, the most significant question remains, how do we effectively measure social support? Social support can be measured using interviews whereby the researcher or clinicians can ask respondents what social support means to them as we try unpacking the different sources of social support received. However, this method may not be convenient for large-scale research or when running a busy clinic. As such, the use of questionnaires has evolved as a method of choice in measuring social support. One such survey is the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support Scale (MSPSS).

The MSPSS is one of the most used questionnaires; it measures the support one receives from friends, family and their significant other/spouse. It only contains 12 questions and can be completed in two minutes. Initially developed in the United States of America, the MSPSS has been extensively translated into many languages globally. However, the hanging question is, does it really measure what it purports to measure? i.e. social support. If so, can it accurately measure this subjective concept of social support in a different cultural context? To answer these questions, we therefore set to critically analyse the measurement properties of all the identified translations of the MSPSS. Our significant findings were that the MSPSS was not translated using very scientifically sound methods and this may affect the accuracy of the information gathered when using the translated version(s). This is rather unfortunate given the need to accurately measure social support given its massive role in improving the mental health of populations suffering from common mental health disorders.

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