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Trial sees volunteers befriend mental health service users

A controlled trial saw that a small investment led to big benefits for building confidence and reducing isolation.

Image: friends via Shutterstock

A SMALL BUT successful trial has seen benefits for mental health service users by literally ‘finding them a friend’.

The controlled trial, set up by UCD’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems and funded by the Health Research Board, matched 52 mental health service users with volunteers and ‘controls’, to measure the benefits for the service users. As Dr Ann Sheridan explained:

For many mental health service users it can be difficult to socialise outside of service-organised activities.

The trial saw the participants – both volunteers and service users – given €20 a month to socialise on a once-a-week meet-up with their assigned friends over a period of nine weeks. They went to sports and music events, exhibitions, the cinema, parties and other normal social outings. “There weren’t too many rules,” said Dr Sheridan.

We wanted people to establish an ordinary friendship and we were there in the background if people needed us.

The findings found that the benefits reaped from such a small investment were overwhelmingly positive. Social functioning and confidence increased; social lonliness and sense of isolation decreased.

Dr Sheridan and the team at UCD School of Nursing now hope to activate similar befriending scheme with community groups to aid recovery from mental ill-health.

The benefits of social contact with peers is being explored by a number of support groups involved with mental health issues, depression and suicide prevention. The Men’s Shed movement in Ireland, for example, has over 120 groups meeting every week – they provide a venue for men of any age to work on projects together and speak freely in a non-judgemental space about the issues that concern them.

Is there a group near you which encourages social contact with vulnerable people which you would recommend. We’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

If you feel you need to speak with someone, call one of the numbers below:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 201 890
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66

Would you wear a pin to show you will talk to someone about their mental health?>
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