, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 1449-1456
Date: 09 Jul 2011

Mismatch of desired versus perceived social support and associated levels of anxiety and depression in newly diagnosed cancer patients

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Perceived social support serves as a buffer against stress in cancer patients as well as in the healthy. However, not all individuals low in support necessarily want more support. We, therefore, tested a match–mismatch model (low versus high perceived support relative to low versus high desired support) with regard to its association with emotional distress.


Participants included two large samples of n = 576 consecutively recruited, newly diagnosed cancer patients and n = 383 healthy controls. The hypothesized interaction effects of perceived and desired support and its impact on anxiety and depressive symptoms were tested via hierarchical linear regression.


Perceived social support and desire for support were orthogonal in cancer patients (r = −0.03, p = 0.56). In accordance with the match–mismatch model, only those cancer patients with a high desire for support but who perceived low support exceeded cut-offs suggestive of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, whereas the other patient groups did not show clinical symptoms. Results for healthy controls were weaker.


The findings support the hypothesized match–mismatch model suggesting that lack of social support is only associated with emotional distress when patients desire more support than they actually perceive as having. Perceived as well as desired social support are, therefore, relevant and non-overlapping constructs to be included in screening tools for emotional distress in order to heighten the utility of screening as a decision aid to guide psycho-oncological follow-up.