Supporting a friend, housemate or partner with mental health difficulties: The student experience

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Abstract

Aims:

When experiencing mental health difficulties, university students turn to their friends for support. This study assessed the consequences of caregiving among a university sample, identifying predictors of caregiving burden among students.

Methods:

A total of 79 students with experience of supporting a friend with mental health difficulties were recruited through a UK student mental health charity to complete an online survey. Alongside qualitative data, the online survey used the Experience of Caregiving Inventory and the Involvement Evaluation Questionnaire as measures of the consequences of caregiving.

Results:

Students supporting friends, housemates or partners were found to experience significant consequences of caregiving. Frequency of face-to-face contact and duration of illness predicted more negative consequences of caregiving, but these relationships were not straightforward. The presence and intensity of professional support did not influence the experience of caregiving.

Conclusions:

The study suggests that the impact of supporting friends with mental health difficulties is not insubstantial for students. Broadening the network of informal social support may help improve the experience for students supporting a friend, but currently, contact with professional services appears to have a limited effect.

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