Can mentoring interventions promote positive health outcomes in the community?

Suurmond, J., Kruithof, K., & Harting, J. (2023). Does mentoring improve the health of people in the community? A realist evaluation. Journal of Social Work, 14680173221144412.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Establishing and maintaining a social network can promote positive health outcomes.
  • Although social networks have positive health implications, developing and maintaining them can be difficult.
  • In order to develop an in-depth understanding of the possibilities of social network interventions, future studies need to assess the nuts and bolts of these interventions, as well as how they affect specific health-related outcomes (quality of life, self-rated physical health, well-being, mental health, and longevity).
  • This study explores potential mechanisms that demonstrate how mentoring interventions affect experienced health and which populations are the most positively impacted by mentoring.
  • Mentoring interventions have a positive effect when…
    • Mentors and mentees develop personal contact built on acceptance, recognition, and acknowledgment.
    • Mentors assist their mentees with creating individual coping resources to handle various social scenarios.
    • Mentors help their mentees recognize their abilities to strengthen their own social networks.
  • All three of these mechanisms contribute to alleviating depression & loneliness and promoting self-esteem & self-confidence.
  • Mentoring interventions can have a positive impact on an individual’s health if the following conditions are met:
    • Provide mentors with training to help them develop positive, supportive relationships
    • Mentees have several social skills and an existing social network (even if they are small)*
  • Mentor-mentee matching also plays an influential role in the effectiveness of mentoring interventions.
  • Mentorships have to be consensual for them to be effective. If someone is pressured into becoming a mentee, mentorships aren’t likely to produce good results.
  • Mentoring has the potential to support people in building their social networks and making positive health changes outside the context of professional mental health care.

* = Evidence suggests mentoring relationships are not as effective for people without a social network. Other interventions (such as community activities) might be more suitable for them.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

Summary: Mentoring is an intervention aimed at strengthening social networks of individuals by providing one-to-one support to develop a social network. While there is a lack of insight into how the social network intervention “mentoring” affects health outcomes, we used a realist evaluation approach to find out for whom and under what circumstances mentoring affects health. The study was conducted in the Netherlands. In phase 1, an initial program theory of mentoring was developed based on a group interview with participants and professionals engaged in mentoring, complemented by documents (previous studies, descriptions of interventions). In phase 2, the program theory was tested using interviews with 23 participants before and 16 after mentoring.

Findings: Mentoring strengthened the social network when two conditions were met. Firstly, mentoring coaches needed to be trained. Secondly, participants needed to have a pre-existing—albeit small—network and need to have some social skills. If the social network was strengthened, mentoring increased self-esteem and self-confidence and decreased experiences of depression and loneliness of participants through three mechanisms: (1) participants were acknowledged and their individual needs were accepted; (2) individual coping resources were improved; (3) capabilities to initiate the search for a social network and to be involved in a social network were realized.

Applications: Mentoring is a useful intervention to increase self-esteem and self-confidence and decrease experiences of depression and loneliness of participants if the two conditions are met. Therefore, mentors should be carefully trained to acknowledge and respond to participants’ individual needs for social bonds.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Summary of the findings

Our realist evaluation of mentoring found three mechanisms that worked. Mentoring worked when a personal contact between mentor and participant was established, based on acknowledgment, recognition, and acceptance, which enhanced participants’ self-esteem and decreased their loneliness (CMO1). Secondly, mentoring worked when the mentor helped the participant develop individual coping resources to deal with social situations, resulting in a more positive perspective on life and favorably influencing self-esteem and self-confidence. This also helped to reduce stress (CMO2). Finally, mentoring worked when the mentors helped the participants realize their own capabilities to strengthen their social networks, resulting in increased feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence and decreased feelings of depression and loneliness (CMO3). Mentoring did not work when mentors did not recognize and explore the authentic needs of participants (countervailing mechanism 1). Mentoring also did not work for participants who had no (or hardly any) social network and the skills to be self-directive and self-confident in developing a stronger social network (countervailing mechanism 2).

Mentoring generally worked as predicted by the program theory. According to this theory, “recognition, coaching coping skills and stimulating self-direction” is what is needed, and this was indeed achieved, depending on the participants’ social network and the mentors’ skills.

To access this article, click here.