Background: Social networks of patients with psychosis can provide social support, and improve health and social outcomes, including quality of life. However, patients with psychosis often live rather isolated with very limited social networks. Evidence for interventions targeting symptoms or social skills, are largely unsuccessful at improving social networks indirectly. As an alternative, interventions may directly focus on expanding networks. In this systematic review, we assessed what interventions have previously been tested for this and to what extent they have been effective. Methods: A systematic review was conducted of randomised controlled trials, testing psychosocial interventions designed to directly increase the social networks of patients with psychosis. Searches of five online databases (PsycINFO, CINAHL, Cochrane Database, MEDLINE, Embase), hand searching of grey literature, and both forward and backward snowballing of key papers were conducted and completed on 12 December 2014. Trial reports were included if they were written in English, the social network size was the primary outcome, participants were ≥ 18 years old and diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. Results: Five studies (n = 631 patients) met the complete inclusion criteria. Studies were from different countries and published since 2008. Four trials had significant positive results, i.e. an observable increase in patients' social network size at the end of the intervention. The interventions included: guided peer support, a volunteer partner scheme, supported engagement in social activity, dog-assisted integrative psychological therapy and psychosocial skills training. Other important elements featured were the presence of a professional, and a focus on friendships and peers outside of services and the immediate family. Conclusions: Despite the small number and heterogeneity of included studies, the results suggest that interventions directly targeting social isolation can be effective and achieve a meaningful increase in patients' networks. Thus, although limited, the existing evidence is encouraging, and the range of interventions used in the reported trials leave various options for future research and further improvements. Future research is needed to test the findings in different settings, identify which components are particularly effective, and determine to what extent the increased networks, over time, impact on patients' symptoms and quality of life.
Anderson, K., Laxhman, N., & Priebe, S. (2015). Can mental health interventions change social networks? A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-015-0684-6