In the research, programs in which patients and volunteers share information were found to reduce depression symptoms better than traditional care alone and were about as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy.
The study performed by the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of Michigan Health System analyzed 10 randomized trials of peer support interventions for depression dating from 1987 to 2009.
"Peer support is much less likely to be incorporated into the treatment of depression than for other conditions such as alcohol or substance abuse," said lead author Paul Pfeiffer.
"Our study combined data from small randomized trials and found peer support seems to be as effective for treating depression as some of the more established treatments," he said.
Peer support has been found to decrease isolation, reduce stress, increase the sharing of health information and provide role models, according to the study.
Since peer support programs often use volunteers and nonprofessionals - and can be done over the phone or Internet as well as in person - they have the potential to be widely available at relatively low cost, Pfeiffer says.
The findings were recently published online ahead of print publication in General Hospital Psychiatry. (ANI)