Partners in adversity V: Support, personality and coping behaviour at the time of crisis

  • P. McC Miller
  • P. G. Surtees
Original Paper


This paper presents further results from a study of married women in Edinburgh who had just suffered an adverse experience: either their husband's non-fatal myocardial infartion, their husband's death or their own arrival in a Women's Aid refuge for battered women. Interviews were carried out 4–6 weeks following the adverse experience and, where possible, again approximately 3 months later. Symptoms were assessed using the 30-item General Health Questionnaire and criterion-based measures of depression and anxiety derived from it. The extent and nature of crisis support from household members and from groups of people outside the household, and also of failures in expected support, was measured at first interview. A modified version of Tyrer and Alexander's (1979) personality schedule was administered at the follow-up interview, and the resulting personality data were then reduced to six factors using principal components analysis. An interviewer assessment of how well the subject was coping was made at both interviews. The vast majority of the sample received extensive practical and emotional support from family and friends, and perhaps because such positive support was so prevalent, variations in it seemed to have little effect on symptoms. However, subjects who were unexpectedly ‘let down’ or criticised by friends or family tended to show higher symptom levels, although, surprisingly, this was less true for the bereaved wives than for the others. The six personality factors that emerged were labellednervousness (similar to neuroticism)impulsivity, social withdrawal, helplessness, inferiority andaggressiveness. There was evidence that subjects high on nervousness remained symptomatic longer following the adverse experience. The aggressiveness factor showed a curvilinear trend with high and low aggressives showing higher symptom levels than middle aggressives. However, for the coronary wives the trend was linear with low aggressives having high symptoms. Subjects low on impulsivity were more affected by being ‘let down’ by friends and family. The interviewer-assessed coping measure was linearly related to nervousness and showed a curvilinear relationship with aggressiveness.

Key words

Life event Support Personality Coping Symptoms 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. McC Miller
    • 1
  • P. G. Surtees
    • 2
  1. 1.Alcohol Research GroupRoyal Edinburgh HospitalGB-Edinburgh
  2. 2.MRC Biostatistics Unit, Institute of Public HealthUniversity Forvie SiteGB-Cambridge

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