A qualitative exploration of the psychosocial needs of people living with long-term conditions and their perspectives on online peer support

Hannah Rowlands, Elly Aylwin-Foster, Matthew Hotopf, Lauren Rayner, Alan Simpson, Grace Lavelle*, Vanessa Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Approximately 20% of people with a long-term condition (LTC) experience depressive symptoms (subthreshold depression [SUBD]). People with SUBD experience depressive symptoms that do not meet the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. However, there is currently no targeted psychological support for people with LTCs also experiencing SUBD. Online peer support is accessible, inexpensive and scalable, and might offer a way of bridging the gap in psychosocial care for LTC patients. This article explores the psychosocial needs of people living with LTCs and investigates their perspectives on online peer support interventions to inform their future design.
Through a co-produced participatory approach, online focus groups were completed with people with lived experience of LTCs. Focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Reflexive Thematic Analysis (TA) was conducted adopting a critical-realist approach and an inductive analysis methodology that sought to follow participants’ priorities and concerns.
Ten people with a range of LTCs participated across three online focus groups, lasting an average of 95 (±10.1) minutes. Mean age was 57 (±11.4) years and 60% of participants identified as female. The three key emerging themes were: 1) relationship between self and outside world, 2) past experiences of peer support, and 3) philosophy and vision of peer support. Adults living with LTCs shared their past experiences of peer support and explored their perspectives on how future online peer support platforms may support their psychosocial needs.
Conclusion: Despite the negative impact(s) of having a long-term physical health condition on mental health, physical and mental healthcare are often treated as separate entities. The need for an integrated approach for people with long-term conditions was clear. Implementation of online peer support to bridge this gap was supported, but there was clear consensus that these interventions need to be co-produced and carefully designed to ensure they feel safe and not commercialised or prescriptive. Shared explorations of the potential benefits and concerns of these online spaces can shape the philosophy and vision of future platforms.
Patient or Public Contribution:
This work is set within a wider project which is developing an online peer support platform for those living with LTCs. A participatory, co-produced approach is integral to this work. The initial vision was steered by the experiences of our patient and public involvement (PPI) groups, who emphasised the therapeutic value of peer-to-peer interaction. The focus groups confirmed the importance and potential benefit of this project.
This paper represents the perspectives of PPI members who collaborate on research and public engagement at the mental-physical interface. A separate, independent Research Advisory Group (RAG), formed of members also living with LTCs, co-produced study documents, topic guides and informed key decision-making processes.
Finally, our co-investigator with lived experience (EAF) undertook the analysis and write up alongside colleagues, further strengthening the interpretation and resonance of our work. She shares first joint authorship, and as a core member of the research team ensures that the conduct of the study is firmly grounded in the experience of people living with LTCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2075-2088
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Expectations
Issue number5
Early online date17 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • long-term conditions
  • mental health
  • peer support
  • physical health
  • psychosocial


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