SIETTE Joyce, CASSIDY Megan, PRIEBE Stefan
Objective: Befriending is an emotional supportive relationship in which one-to-one companionship is provided on a regular basis by a volunteer. It is commonly and increasingly offered by the voluntary sector for individuals with distressing physical and mental conditions. However, the effectiveness of this intervention on health outcomes is largely unknown. This systematic review examines the benefits of befriending. Design: Systematic review Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases was conducted to identify randomised controlled trials and quasi-experimental trials of befriending for a range of physical and mental health indications including depression, anxiety, mental illness, cancer, physical illness and dementia. Main outcomes included patient-relevant and disease-specific outcomes, such as depression, loneliness, quality of life, self-esteem, social support and well-being. Results: A total of 14 trials (2411 participants) were included; 7 were judged at low risk of bias. Most trials showed improvement in symptoms associated with befriending but these associations did not reach statistical significance in all trials. Befriending was significantly associated with better patient-reported outcomes across primary measures. However, there was no significant benefit on single outcomes, including depression, quality of life, loneliness ratings, self-esteem measures, social support structures and well-being. Conclusions: There was moderate quality evidence to support the use of befriending for the treatment of individuals with different physical and mental health conditions. This evidence refers to an overall improvement benefit in patient-reported primary outcomes, although with a rather small effect size. The current evidence base does not allow for firm conclusions on more specific outcomes. Future trials should hypothesise a model for the precise effects of befriending and use specified inclusion and outcome criteria.