Hospitals can play an important role in facilitating peer support. One very successful programme is the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) programme in Melbourne, Australia, which has been effective in creating peer support networks for young people with chronic illness (21). ChlPS is a generic program recognizing that young people with any chronic illness face many similar psychosocial issues irrespective of illness type. Initially the program begins with an eight- week group for eight- young people with a variety of diagnoses. The group is run by a health professional and a trained peer leader and during these sessions they are able to discuss what it's like to live with a chronic illness. As a follow-up from this program, an ongoing social and recreational timetable is planned by participants. Activities include movie nights and newsletter production. A leadership training program is also offered to graduates of the program who then become co-facilitators and leaders of other activities. A qualitative evaluation study of the ChIPS program reported a positive impact on well being of young people with a reduction in social isolation, an improved acceptance of illness and improved adherence to treatment (21). Other research by Clark et al. (22) reported their monthly peer support group involving adolescents with cancer, hematological diseases and healthy high school students resulted in improved coping skills and improved quality of life for the patients. In the healthy adolescents a positive attitudinal change and intended behavior toward peers with chronic illness was also reported.
Organizing less structured programs such as vacation social groups, bowling trips, Christmas parties, or inviting local cosmetic companies in for a "pamper day" may serve to increase self-confidence levels and facilitate the development of peer support networks. In addition, therapy groups such as hydrotherapy or gym groups involving similar others may also serve to facilitate social networks. Careful selection of patients by health professionals may further enhance this process, by considering age, interests, problems, and personalities.
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