Pain in children can become chronic and disabling, associated with high degrees of social isolation from schooling absences, physical limitations that prevent participation in social settings, and difficulties forming self-identity. This lack of social support network impairs social coping skills and can lead to worsening pain symptoms.
In this case study, we describe a new program to disrupt the cycle of social isolation and chronic pain by emphasizing social coping skills via peer mentorship. The program aimed to utilize peers who have learned to self-manage their own chronic pain to assist patients with social coping skills to reduce isolation caused by chronic pain conditions.
Children and adolescents with chronic pain.
This case describes the experience of a 17 year-old, African American boy with diffuse chronic body pain as a participant (“the mentee”) in the program; his mentor was a 19 year-old girl with chronic pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The mentor received six hours of training and she mentored the patient in 10 weekly sessions.
The mentee connected very well with his mentor through sharing similar pain experiences. He demonstrated improvements in positive affect, sleep, social coping, and perception of bodily pain on a variety of quantitative measures. Qualitative data from interviews also suggested that the mentee learned important social coping skills through peer mentorship.
A peer mentoring approach to chronic pain may help alleviate social isolation in adolescents and result in improvements in a number of associated symptoms.