A pilot program in Australia helped both mentors and mentees.
A “mentor” is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. This very modern word goes back to the ancient Greeks and to a character, Mentor, a trusted friend and advisor to Odysseus in Homer’sOdyssey. This concept has reached across the ages and now is found in most specialties, particularly education and social work. A pilot study in Australia recently evaluated a peer mentor program for “mentors,” persons recovered from an eating disorder, and “mentees,” individuals who currently had an eating disorder (J Eat Disord. 2019. doi: org/10.1186/s40337-019-0245-3).
In this pilot study, Dr. Jennifer Beveridge and co-workers at Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorne, Australia, and St. Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, recruited 30 mentees and 17 mentors for a peer mentoring program. The mentors were all recovered from an eating disorder for at least a year, and for study purposes were staff members at St. Vincent’s Hospital, employed specifically for the program. Mentees had current eating disorders, and had actively transitioned out of an inpatient treatment program but remained in outpatient treatment for their eating disorder.
The program consisted of 13 sessions given over 6 months. The participants completed the EDE-Q and measures of quality of life, mood, and perceived levels of disability. Semi-structured interviews were conducted for qualitative evaluation of the overall program. An individualized Wellness Plan was designed for each participant. The mentors all attended separate bimonthly group supervision sessions, where the participants received further education, including training, and peer support.
Thirty participants (28 females and 2 males) agreed to participate in the study. The mentees ranged in age from 18 to 50 years (median age: 28 years). Most mentees (28) had diagnoses of anorexia nervosa, 1 was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, and 1 had other specific feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).Eight withdrew during the study, due to need for overseas travel, moving, returning home to a regional area after treatment, and lack of motivation to continue with the program.
Improvements noted at the end of the study
Over the time of the study, the mentees increased their body mass index (BMI, mg/kg2), in contrast to the typical weight loss reported after discharge from treatment. They also had improvements in eating disorders symptoms over the course of the study, including improved mood, less disability, and improved quality of life.
Overall, the mentoring relationship was a positive experience for both mentees and mentors. The mentees reported feeling inspired by their mentors, and that the sessions were much more relaxed and nonjudgmental than treatment sessions. However, the mentors themselves had increases in the EDE-Q Global Eating Concern and Shape Concern scores, though none reached the pathologic range. Dr. Beveridge reported, “Qualitative results highlighted that the mentoring relationship was a positive experience for both mentees and mentors, instilling an increased hope for recovery in mentees and an opportunity for mentors to reflect on their own recovery with increased confidence.”
This strategy has been shown to be helpful in mood disorders and although results were mixed, deserves further attention for EDs as well.