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To Befriend or Not: Naturally Developing Friendships Amongst a Clinical Group of Adolescents with Chronic Pain

      Abstract

      Adolescents with chronic pain frequently perceive a lack of support from friends. Support from a peer with a shared experience has been found to provide emotional, informational, and appraisal support. We sought to quantify the frequency with which adolescents with chronic pain want to befriend other adolescents with chronic pain, and to describe the features of these friendships. Adolescents with chronic pain who had attended a 10-week structured self-management program from 3 sites were invited to complete an online survey. Forty teens participated, 95% (n = 38) were girls; 32% (n = 13) befriended another; 52% (n = 21) were interested in befriending another but did not; 15% (n = 6) were not interested in befriending anyone. Over half (62%) of the friendships lasted at least 1 year (n = 8), but only 2 intermingled these with their regular friendships. Pain was discussed frequently during interactions. The most common reasons for not forming friendships were no time to exchange contact information during group and not having things in common. Reasons for not being interested in forming a friendship also included not having anything in common apart from pain. The majority of participants were interested in befriending another. Emotional support, by feeling understood and discussing pain without fear that the other is disinterested, was the main peer support provided. Without common interests, this form of friendship may not last and is at risk for being overly solicitous by focusing on pain. It remains unclear whether the benefits of peer support translate into improved function.
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