Better Together is one of the first programmes worldwide to identify the advantages of bringing young people with different conditions together, especially when it comes to overcoming the sense of isolation and stigma.
One to One Africa is now working to hone this approach with Groote Schuur Hospital, creating a new model of peer-led adolescent support groups that helps them cope with their illness on a physical, psychological and social level.
Adolescents: Better Together
This project seeks to improve adolescents’ health, lives, and future prospects. All teens deserve to reach their full potential, irrespective of illness.
Teenage years provide a unique set of challenges for young people living with disease or trauma. Whether you are living with HIV or a refugee starting life in a new country, being a teenager can be particularly tough. Faced with issues of identity, increasing independence, and peer pressure, young people can struggle to cope.
Now add a chronic illness onto this.
Adolescents in the Better Together programme take part in weekly peer support sessions, counselling, and access to youth-friendly services including healthcare. This provides them with a safe space to engage with other teens facing similar issues (even if the illnesses themselves are different), and for clinicians to be actively involved in their patient’s care outside of the hospital room.
Teens with chronic illness trained as peer mentors
Better Together sessions run for teens with chronic illnesses
Better Together session visits
Percentage of teen girls attending Better Together sessions
Together with clinicians in Groote Schuur Hospital, we have developed a cross-departmental support group for adolescents with chronic illnesses, including HIV and diabetes.
Better Together provides:
1. Weekly peer group sessions for 12-19-year olds who live with chronic illnesses. Instead of separating out young people into illness-specific groups, this approach aims to reduce the stigma associated with certain chronic illnesses by providing young people with an adolescent-friendly space to share their experiences. These are led in part by clinicians and in part by trained peer mentors.
2. Medical and psychosocial support and information from a psychologist, different clinicians and social service staff and ensure a focus on therapeutic games to address issues including chronic illness, self-esteem, self-harm, depression, anxiety, gaining insight and coping skills.
3. Training to 10-15 young people each year to become peer mentors so that they can go out into their community and support hard to reach young people who might not be accessing services.
4. Support for the parents of adolescents with chronic illnesses through informal weekly ‘coffee club’ sessions with a social worker.