Peer Support takes place when people with similar lived experiences provide emotional, social or practical help to each other. In the mental health field, Peer Support enables those who have experienced mental ill-health to connect and support each other. This can be an extremely positive experience for all involved.
At Blurt, we’re big fans of Peer Support. In this post, we explain why Peer Support is so beneficial, and share the different ways we can access it.
How Peer Support helps
We feel less alone
Depression can feel incredibly lonely and isolating. It can feel like we’re the only person in the world who feels the way do. Depression can make us do things we regret, or act in ways we’re embarrassed about, which makes us want to retreat even further.
Having that knowing nod – that person to say ‘I get it’, ‘I do that too’, ‘I had that problem and this is what helped me’ – can help us feel less alone.
It’s difficult to explain how we feel to someone who’s never experienced anything like it. Trying to find the words to describe our thoughts and emotions can feel impossible and exhausting. It can also be really frustrating because we might struggle to get others to understand.
Talking to people who have had similar experiences can be easier. We don’t have to work so hard to explain. They are likely to get where we’re at – even if we say very little – because they’ve been there too. It’s such a relief to be understood.
In a lot of support organisations, we can fall into the ‘helper’ and the ‘helpee’ roles. This can feel imbalanced: we might feel guilty for using the other person’s time, or resentful that our own needs are not being met.
Peer support is mutual – so we’re all helping one another as much as we’re being helped. This can allow us to feel less guilty, and to feel useful. It can also empower us, and remind us how awesome we are. By sharing our experiences, we appreciate the skills we’ve developed and the things we’ve learned to help us manage our feelings. And it’s validating to pass these skills and ideas onto others.
When we are unwell – particularly when we have been unwell for quite a while – it can be very easy to lose hope. We believe things will never get better.
Through Peer Support, we meet others who have felt as we do – who have been through similar difficulties to those we’re currently facing – and have come out the other side. This inspires a level of hope, and reminds us that life will not always be this way. Things can, and will, get better.
Different Forms of Peer Support
Peer Support can be really informal. As it basically boils down to ‘supporting, and getting support from, someone who’s been through something similar’, talking with friends who’ve had similar experiences could class as peer support – even though we probably wouldn’t label it like that.
Some NHS services and charitable organisations offer peer support as part of their work. Sometimes this can be quite structured: Peer Support workers might be matched with someone accessing the service and work with them on a 1:1 basis. They might also be part of a group – offering support alongside other staff members. Sometimes they will be paid, and sometimes they might work on a voluntary basis.
There are also likely to be many staff working in all kinds of services, who have lived experience of mental illness but don’t have ‘peer support’ in their job title. Sometimes staff might share their experiences with those accessing the service, other times they might choose not to – services often leave it up to the individual as to whether or not they would like to disclose.
Peer Support can also be accessed online. Some sources are carefully moderated, while others – such as general hashtags on Twitter or Instagram – aren’t moderated so much (though many social media sites are now cracking down on very triggering content).
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