Background: Worldwide with ageing populations, the numbers of informal carers are likely to increase. Although being a carer is often satisfying, it can be challenging and require support. Volunteer-provided carer mentoring services where carers are supported by volunteer mentors are one such intervention. However, little is known about the impact of mentoring, carers' experiences or the mechanisms by which these schemes may work. Previous quantitative findings have been inconsistent suggesting a different, mixed methods approach using qualitative and quantitative methods may be valuable.
Objectives: Objectives were to explore two main questions: whether mentoring had a significant positive effect on carer mentees in terms of mental health, quality of life and confidence in caring and to explore how carers experience and perceive the process and benefits of mentoring. In addition, the study aimed to suggest possible mechanisms to understand how mentoring may benefit carers.
Methods and setting: Mixed methods (quantitative questionnaires and depth interviews) investigated an established mentoring service provided by volunteer mentors. During the study period, 28 carers received mentoring. Of these, 25 carers completed structured questionnaires both before and after mentoring, to determine whether mentoring had an impact on carer wellbeing and confidence in caring. Depth interviews were also undertaken with 11 purposively sampled carers to explore how carers experience and perceive the process and benefits of mentoring.
Results: Statistically significant improvements in carer anxiety (p<0.001), depression (p<0.001), quality of life (p=0.02) and confidence in caring (p<0.05 on all dimensions except one) were found. Depth interviews revealed that carers were very positive about mentoring and highlighted many benefits. Findings suggested emotional support, information provision, problem solving facilitation and gaining new perspectives may be mechanisms by which mentoring achieves positive outcomes. Mentor personal characteristics, experiences and training are possible facilitators of the process.
Conclusions: Carer mentoring services can be a valuable form of carer support that falls somewhere between formal and informal support. Adopting mixed methods permitted greater understanding of how mentoring may benefit carers and has implications for mentor recruitment and training. The fact that mentoring can be provided by volunteer mentors makes it an attractive, potentially cost-effective means of supporting carers.
Keywords: Caregiving; Carer; Intervention; Mentoring; Mixed methods; Social support.
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