Peer Support may be defined as the help and support that people with lived experience of a mental illness or a learning disability are able to give to one another.
It may be social, emotional or practical support but importantly this support is mutually offered and reciprocal, allowing peers to benefit from the support whether they are giving or receiving it.
Key elements of Peer Support in mental health include that it is built on shared personal experience and empathy, it focuses on an individual’s strengths not weaknesses, and works towards the individual’s wellbeing and recovery.
In Canada and the USA, Peer Support in its various forms has been a widely recognised and utilised resource that has been developing since the 1960s.
Research has shown that peer-run self-help groups yield improvement in psychiatric symptoms resulting in decreased hospitalisation, larger social support networks and enhanced self-esteem and social functioning.
The benefits of Peer Support
The benefits of Peer Support are wide ranging for those receiving the support, peer-support workers themselves, and for the mental health system as a whole. One of the key benefits of Peer Support is the greater perceived empathy and respect that peer supporters are seen to have for the individuals they support.
Peer Support also has benefits for peer support workers themselves, increasing levels of self-esteem, confidence and positive feelings that they are doing good. Peer-support workers often experience an increase in their own ability to cope mental health problems.
Peer Support also benefits the health system as a whole as it can lead to decrease in hospital admissions for those taking part.
Who can benefit from Peer Support
Peer-support programmes have been developed to such an extent that peer supporters, with adequate training, can help their peers with the following issues:
- bereavement / divorce
- relationship problems
- and many other mental health conditions
Types of Peer Support
A peer supporter who offers a listening service is a person who has been trained in counselling skills that include active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication, confidentiality and problem solving. Peer supporters who have completed certain training may then go on to offer support to their peers on a formal basis.
This involves peers educating peers on specific topics, such as coping with depression, anxiety or addiction. This will generally include a group of peers of similar age, status and background to the people to whom they are delivering material.Peer Tutoring
Peer tutoring is a model whereby a peer supporter aids a peer, whether of the same age or younger, with his or her academic and social learning. The support offered by the peer tutor can be cross-curricular and take the form of paired reading or paired writing.
One example of a this would be a ‘buddy’ system in which people who have received certain training are attached to a new group and act as a friend, mentor and guide to ease people into a new environment, eg a school, hospital.
Another aspect of peer mentoring is that of a positive role model, involving a long-term commitment between the mentor and mentee.The peer mentor is linked to a mentee and has the role of befriender, listener and mediator.
Conflict resolution is another name for peer mediation. Peer mediators are trained specifically in conflict resolution skills.They help people find solutions to disputes in formal and informal situations. It is unusual to find an organisation adopting just a peer mediation model, though such a model is often part of a fuller peer-support programme.
If you need assistance for yourself or someone you know, don't hesitate to contact us at GBHWC.