Befriending by volunteers has the potential to reduce the frequent social isolation of patients with schizophrenia and thus improve health outcomes. However, trial-based evidence for its effectiveness is limited.
To conduct a randomised controlled trial of befriending for patients with schizophrenia or related disorders.
Patients were randomised to a befriending programme for 1 year or to receive information about social activities only (trial registration: ISRCTN14021839). Outcomes were assessed masked to allocation at the end of the programme; at 12 months and at a 6-month follow-up. The primary outcome was daily time spent in activities (using the Time Use Survey (TUS)) with intention-to-treat analysis.
A total of 124 patients were randomised (63 intervention, 61 active control) and 92 (74%) were followed up at 1 year. In the intervention group, 49 (78%) met a volunteer at least once and 31 (49%) had more than 12 meetings. At 1 year, mean TUS scores were more than three times higher in both groups with no significant difference between them (adjusted difference 8.9, 95% CI −40.7 to 58.5, P = 0.72). There were no significant differences in quality of life, symptoms or self-esteem. However, patients in the intervention group had significantly more social contacts than those in the control group at the end of the 12-month period. This difference held true at the follow-up 6 months later.
Although no difference was found on the primary outcome, the findings suggest that befriending may have a lasting effect on increasing social contacts. It may be used more widely to reduce the social isolation of patients with schizophrenia.
Declaration of interest