Lipman, E. L., DeWit, D., DuBois, D. L., Larose, S., & Erdem, G. (2018). Youth with chronic health problems: how do they fare in main-stream mentoring programs? BMC Public Health, 18(1), 102.
Notes of Interest: This article highlights the positive effects associated with youth with chronic health issues’ involvement in mainstream mentoring programs (i.e., Big Brothers Big Sisters). Mentored youth with chronic health problems reported fewer social anxiety symptoms and higher peer self-esteem as compared to youth who were not mentored. Mentorship was also associated with a reduction in depression symptoms among both youth with and without chronic health problems. Findings suggest that participation in formal mentoring programs can be beneficial for social and emotional wellbeing among youth living with health conditions.
Introduction (reprinted from Abstract)
Youth with chronic physical health problems often experience social and emotional problems. We investigate the relationship between participation in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada community-based mentoring programs (BBBS) and youth social and mood outcomes by youth health status.
Youth newly enrolled in BBBS were classified by health status (one or more chronic physical health problems without activity limitation, n = 191; one or more chronic physical health problems with activity limitation, n = 94; no chronic health problem or activity limitation, n = 536) and mentoring status (yes/no) at 18-month follow-up. Youth outcomes measured at follow-up were social anxiety, depressed mood, and peer self-esteem.
Youth with chronic health problems and activity limitation were more likely to live with two biological parents, use mental health or social services, and have parents who reported difficulties with depressed mood, social anxiety, family functioning and neighborhood problems. At 18-month follow-up, mentored youth in this health status group experienced fewer symptoms of social anxiety and higher peer self-esteem compared to non-mentored youth. Mentored youth with chronic health problems without activity limitation and mentored youth with no health problems or limitations did not show significant improvements in social anxiety and peer self-esteem. Regardless of their health status, mentored youth reported fewer symptoms of depressed mood than non-mentored youth. Youth with chronic health problems, particularly those with activity limitation as well, demonstrate a capacity to experience social and mood benefits associated with mentoring.
Implications (reprinted from Discussion and Conclusions)
Fewer symptoms of depressed mood was associated with having an adult mentor for all health groups but reached statistical significance only for youth with no chronic health problems or activity limitation. Others have also demonstrated an association between mentoring and improved mood (DeWit, et al., 2016; Herrera, DuBois, & Grossman, 2013). Mentored youth with chronic physical health problems and activity limitation were better off compared with non-mentored youth, exhibiting significantly fewer symptoms of social anxiety and higher levels of peer self-esteem. This association between mentoring and improved social anxiety and peer self-esteem was not found in the other health groups.
The association between having a mentor and reduced social anxiety and higher peer self-esteem among youth with chronic health problems and activity limitation may be related to the fact that their parents, who are coping with their own anxiety and mood difficulties, are unable to optimally support their children in these areas, so mentors play a key role. It is also possible that mentors become more empathic and sensitive when they are exposed to youth with chronic health problems that are perhaps more visible and that limit activities. It may be that training and match support by BBBS agencies was more specific or intensive for mentors matched with these specific youth. Others have suggested specific recruitment and training of mentors for special youth populations (Britner et al., 2006). It may also be that mentoring works better for these youth with physical health problems and apparent limitations because these youth are more likely to be exposed to peer pressure, rejection and intimidation. The experience of connecting well with adults (e.g., when in hospital) and decreased experience with peers (e.g., related to poor school attendance) may also influence this finding. This may explain why the positive results associated with being mentored were specific to social interaction measures, not depressed mood.
Youth with chronic health problems and activity limitation may benefit from a BBBS one-to-one community mentoring relationship, particularly for social anxiety and peer self-esteem. All youth may experience a benefit to depressed mood associated with mentoring. For youth with chronic health problems, opportunities to be involved in main stream programs may reduce the focus on medical illness, decrease stigma and provide opportunities for skill building and social relationships. Practitioners working with youth with chronic health problems should consider recommending main stream mentoring programs as participation may improve how these youth fare.
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