Tinnitus is a chronic condition for which there is no medical treatment. Tinnitus groups are a widely available resource for people with tinnitus. Objectives: Our objectives were to explore the active ingredients of tinnitus support groups in terms of their mechanisms for providing support, the contextual factors that elicit such mechanisms, and the outcomes in terms of coping enhancement. Design: We adopted a pluralist and iterative approach informed by the realist evaluation method. Methods: We conducted ethnographic data generation at tinnitus support groups involving observations (n = 160), focus groups (n = 130), and individual interviews (n = 20). Inductive analyses were conducted following the constant comparison method of grounded theory. We then interrogated the inductive themes to identify evidence of Contexts, Mechanisms, and Outcomes. We then produced a model which was tested in a survey of tinnitus group members (n = 65) in effect providing large-scale respondent validation of the data-driven model created through our inductive analysis. Results: We identified that tinnitus groups can facilitate social connectedness between group members. This experience appeared to build resilience among those experiencing tinnitus-related distress. Groups also played a role in building a sense of control related to knowledge and information sharing. Additionally, we identified risks associated with not accessing social support in a group environment. Conclusions: Our findings contribute to the growing understanding of the power of social connectedness as building shared social identity when living with tinnitus. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Tinnitus is a prevalent condition with approximately 10–15% of the population experiencing a spontaneous sound without obvious source. Tinnitus is an invisible health and chronic condition. People with tinnitus experience high levels of distress, anxiety, and depression. Group support is beneficial to people with many health problems. What does this study add? This study describes the mechanisms by which tinnitus support groups can support coping in tinnitus. This is the first study to comprehensively explore the views of those who attend tinnitus groups. The study identifies the key features of support groups that facilitate social connectedness among group members. The most valued features of groups are the knowledge and information provided, the sense of belonging communicated to group members, and the creation and maintenance of a sense of hope towards the tinnitus. This study contributes new insights to both the tinnitus field and adds to the literature on support groups in health.
Bibliographical note© 2019 The Authors. British Journal of Health Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society
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- social connectedness
- social support
- tinnitus support groups