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VOLUME Research Programme

About Us

The website has been set up as a part of a research study on befriending in mental health, funded by the NIHR. The research is carried out at the Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry, WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Services Development, Queen Mary University of London.

What is befriending?

Befriending is a commonly used term referring to a relationship between two people, often a person with mental health problems (AKA a befriendee) and a volunteer (AKA a befriender). As the term suggests, the aim of befriending is to gradually develop a close relationship, friendship even, between the befriendee and befriender, with the benefits of natural friendships such as having someone to talk to, do fun activities with, and having someone to trust. Befriending is used for individuals who are socially isolated with limited social contacts and engagement. The pair meets regularly and how they spend their time together varies from scheme to scheme depending on the overall aim and nature of the scheme.

Why has this research been carried out?

Although befriending schemes have recently become very popular both in the NHS and independent sector, little evidence is available as to their effectiveness.

The VOLUME (Volunteering in mental health care for people with psychosis) programme, funded by the NIHR (Reference number: RP-PG-0611-20002), aimed to systematically evaluate the benefits of befriending schemes for both patients and volunteers.

The programme consisted of a number of studies, focused on providing information on existing schemes, identification of best practice in one-to-one volunteer input for patients with psychosis, and finally evaluating evidence in a randomised controlled trial.

Within the programme we identified mental health volunteering schemes in the NHS and in voluntary organisations across England, their policies for recruitment, selection, training and management of volunteers. We also interviewed a number of patients and volunteers to understand their subjective experience and opinions about befriending.

Finally, we designed a best practice befriending scheme for patients with psychosis and tested its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in a randomised controlled trial, the main results can be found here.

This website has been designed to make our findings widely available to both NHS and independent volunteering organisations, as well as those who are considering volunteering in mental health.


The following publications have emerged from the VOLUME (Volunteering in mental health care for people with psychosis) programme of research: 

To befriend or to be a friend: A systematic review of the meaning and practice of 'befriending' in mental health care.

Although befriending schemes have recently been very popular both within the NHS and independent sector, the way by which they operate, their aims and policies as well as the very definitions of befriending they use vary widely.

2016 - Thompson - To befriend or to be a friend - JofMH.pdf

Volunteering in the care of people with severe mental illness: A systematic review.

The above review examines what type of people engage in befriending, what motivates them to do this and what benefits it has for both volunteers and those with a mental illness. The review has been recently updated, to include research up to 2018 and is expected to be published soon. 

2012 - Hallett - Volunteering in the care of people with severe mental illness ... a systematic review - BMC Psych.pdf

Preferences for befriending schemes: a survey of patients with severe mental illness  

Patients with severe mental illness (SMI) like psychosis tend to be more socially isolated than the general population. As an option for targeting social isolation, we asked patients with SMI about their preferences for befriending and found that many would be interested in taking part with weekly, one-hour, one-to-one meetings. 

2018 - Toner - Preferences for befriending schemes - BMCPsych.pdf

Effectiveness of befriending interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis 

Little is known about the benefits of befriending especially for people with a mental illness. To overcome this, these authors collated all the available evidence across a number of physical and mental health conditions and found that befriending can improve patients' feelings and outlook. There is still not enough evidence to determine whether it has benefits observable to clinicians or other people (e.g. symptoms)   

2017 - Siette - Effectiveness of befriending interventions - BMJOpen.pdf

Effectiveness of one-to-one volunteer support for patients with psychosis: protocol of a randomised controlled trial

A primary aim of the VOLUME programme was to test the impact of befriending over a one-year period on health and social outcomes for people with psychosis. This paper lays out the blueprint for the befriending scheme and the trial that was designed to test it. The results from the actual trial will be published separately.

2016  Priebe, Pavlickova - VOLUME protocol - BMJOpen.pdf

Characteristics and motivations of volunteers providing one-to-one support for people with mental illness: a survey in Austria

This survey conducted in Austria is the largest of its kind and looked at the characteristics and motivations of volunteers in mental health. It highlights the many different types of people that can be recruited to volunteer, especially if their different motivations are taken into account. 

2018 - Klug  Characteristics and motivations of Volunteers - SPPE.pdf

 Attitudes towards severe mental illness and social distance: A survey of volunteer befrienders in Austria 

This study reveals that volunteers have a lower desire for social distance from people with severe mental illness than the general population. For example, they are more likely to welcome them as a neighbour. It still remains to be determined whether these individuals are attracted to befriending or whether it is as a result of befriending. 

2018 - Toner Social distance - IJSP.pdf

Effectiveness of a volunteer befriending programme for patients with schizophrenia: randomised controlled trial.

Patient and befriender experiences of participating in a befriending programme for adults with psychosis: a qualitative study.