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Open Access 01-12-2022 | Mood Disorders | Research

‘It was the deepest level of companionship’: peer-to-peer experience of supporting community-dwelling older people with depression - a qualitative study

Authors: Jessica P. S. Tang, Tianyin Liu, Shiyu Lu, C. Y. Sing, Lesley C. Y. Sze, Terry Y. S. Lum, Samson Tse

Published in: BMC Geriatrics | Issue 1/2022

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Abstract

Background

There is an ample body of literature examining the experiences and outcomes of peer support services for mental health recovery in western countries. However, formal peer support is only recently adapted and piloted to alleviate depression among older people, and little is known about how the peer-to-peer model might be lived out in the older Chinese population. This qualitative study investigated peer supporters’ (PS) perspectives of their roles and experiences of rendering formal peer support to community-dwelling older adults at risk of or living with depression in Hong Kong.

Methods

The study adopted a qualitative design. Five semi-structured focus groups were conducted with 27 trained peer supporters between ages 54–74 (21 females and 6 males) who had provided peer-to-peer support to older adults at risk of or living with depression in the community for at least 12 months. Thematic analysis was employed to derive content and meanings from the focus group transcripts.

Results

Participants’ mean age was 61.9 years; two-thirds of them were retired and the rest still engaged in part-time or full-time employment. Four themes were identified in relations to the roles and experiences in rendering the peer support services: (1) peerness in health and age-related lived experiences; (2) companionship, social and emotional ties beyond formal support; (3) meaningful roles to facilitate older people’s functional ability; and (4) hopes and actions against the undesirable outcomes of aging. Being a PS might provide meaningful roles for persons in transition to or living in late adulthood, and enable community-dwelling older adults with depression to maintain functional ability. On the other hand, defining the concept of ‘peer’ beyond the shared experience of mental distress, ensuring a healthy boundary between the peers and the service users, maintaining a careful balance between time-limited formal support and stable social ties, and providing self-management training and on-going support appear crucial.

Conclusions

This study of PS’ perspectives and experiences offer insights into the age-specific dimension of the peer relationship. Despite the promising effects it might offer, careful implementation of peer support among older adults is warranted to safeguard against the ensuing loss of meaningful social ties and the potential emotional distress.
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Metadata
Title
‘It was the deepest level of companionship’: peer-to-peer experience of supporting community-dwelling older people with depression - a qualitative study
Authors
Jessica P. S. Tang
Tianyin Liu
Shiyu Lu
C. Y. Sing
Lesley C. Y. Sze
Terry Y. S. Lum
Samson Tse
Publication date
01-12-2022
Publisher
BioMed Central
Published in
BMC Geriatrics / Issue 1/2022
Electronic ISSN: 1471-2318
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-022-03121-4

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