It is well-known that people psychologically adapt to health shocks over time and social participation (SP) has a favourable impact on health. Combining these two understandings, the current study addresses how psychological adaptation to major health shocks was affected by SP experience one year prior to the initial diagnosis.
Data were collected from a twelve-wave nationwide panel survey conducted from 2005 to 2016, starting with 34,240 individuals aged 50–59 years. Individuals who were initially diagnosed with cancer, stroke, heart disease or diabetes at any time between the second and twelfth waves and kept diagnosed as such were focused on. Random-effects models were estimated to examine how baseline SP prior to the diagnosis affected the pace of change in psychological distress, which was measured using Kessler 6 (K6) scores (range 0–24; M 3.3 SD 4.2), following immediate responses to the initial diagnosis.
Baseline SP enabled or accelerated psychological adaptation to major health shocks. It is noted that the pace of decline of the K6 score per year after the immediate responses was 0.20 for cancer and 0.09 for diabetes (both p < 0.001) among men with baseline SP, in contrast with non-significant and limited changes among those without it. While the results for women were more mixed than those for men, the former results confirmed favourable impacts of baseline SP on psychological adaptation to health shocks in general.
The results highlight a favourable impact of SP on psychological adaptation to health shocks.