Making Sense of Well-being: A Mixed-methods study applying sense-making theory to explore the role of communication competence and social support in physical, emotional, mental and comprehensive well-being




Carmack, Suzanne

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In keeping with the World Health Organization's definition of health as a "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity," (WHO, 1948) this study investigated well-being from a health communication perspective. Expanding upon previous interdisciplinary literature which has sought to define what well-being is, and what it is not, in often complex and competing ways, this investigation explores how individual members of the George Mason University culture (i.e. faculty, staff and students) make sense of well-being with regards to their health and their lived experience. Inspired by Kreps's (1988) Relational Health Communication Competence Model (RHCCM), Dervin's (2008) Sense-Making methodology and Weick's (2005) sensemaking theory, this mixed-methods study qualitatively explores well-being as a sensemaking process, and quantitatively explores the influence of communication competence and social support on physical, mental and emotional well-being outcomes. In the first and qualitative portion of the study, a small (n=38) self-selected, non-randomized sample population of faculty, staff and students of George Mason University were interviewed using open-ended questions inspired by Sense-Making methodology (Dervin, 2008) to uncover how these respondents make sense of their well-being. In the second and quantitative portion of the study, a larger and more diverse sample population (n=644) completed a multi-faceted self-report survey instrument measuring interpersonal communication competence, social support, and comprehensive, emotional, mental and physical well-being. RESULTS In both qualitative and quantitative data, communication competence, social support, and the communicative act of Sense-making (Dervin, 2008) were shown to positively correlate with the self-reported and subjective well-being of the participants in this study. Additionally, dimensions of social support and communication competence predicted all four dimensions of well-being examined (i.e. comprehensive, mental, emotional and physical well-being). CONCLUSION Based on the study's quantitative and qualitative findings, the study offers a new theoretical framework for well-being research, entitled centered well-being. This centered well-being model posits that well-being functions as a Sense-Making experience, influenced by intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intercultural communication. Ultimately, this study offers health communication and public health scholars and practitioners mixed-methods insights into the role that well-being plays in the three central avenues of health communication scholarship: health literacy, patient-provider communication and health promotion.



Communication, Public health, Health education, Centered, Communication competence, Sensemaking, Social support, Wellbeing, Well-being