The power of peer support

Knowing who to turn to when you first start experiencing any emotional distress is tricky. Understanding what ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’ is for you in the first instance can be complicated, scary and overwhelming, let alone knowing who to feel safe and trust with your feelings is another matter altogether. We are all unique, have come from diverse cultures and backgrounds and want to be approached in different ways. Having felt isolated for such a long period of time or dealt with feelings that you have not experienced before, can make it difficult to talk in front of new people and build up the confidence to speak about life experiences without feeling judged and under pressure. To speak in detail about what has happened to you to a trained counselor or other mental health professional is beneficial however, to have the connection with others who have shared similar experiences with their mental health can help you completely shape your journey with your life changes. You might be reading this and be thinking about speaking to someone. There are also some good helplines out there. At my lowest times though, meeting new people was not on the agenda but helplines were fantastic for me. Sleeping was too!

Peer support is becoming one of the main areas of your support network alongside your regular appointments and health care, other social outlets, health professionals, nutrition and healthy eating, work or education. GPs should be prescribing peer support when you are at a stage with your mental health to be out and about meeting people. Having self-management of your health conditions is really empowering too.

We have always been connected to peers in many ways, for example at school, work and in your community. Being surrounded with like-minded individuals and ‘experts of experience’ can change how you see yourself, your perspective on your health condition and give you some tips to looking after yourself and your family, if you have children or care for a relative. Peer support also can help you put meaning into your experiences and gives you the confidence to speak with your GP or find a therapist. A lot of services are self referral so you don’t need a GP to help you which is handy.

The possibility of healing from emotional pain and finding others at different stages of their journey is so critical. Having hope and keeping hope with the relationship you form with other peers is fundamental to your life,  helping you to become more positive and giving you more direction with your life. Being exposed to others is powerful, firstly because you don’t feel alone, weak or substandard in society. There are millions who have been affected by long term emotional distress which is more than a bereavement or a major, stressful life change like a divorce or moving house. I have always had a low stress threshold. It makes me human and Im proud of all my strengths and areas of development. I’ve had a lot of stressful life events and your mind, body and soul needs support.

There is also some research out there to show the benefits of peer support. The role of peer support is undervalued by commissioners and we need more funding to go into projects in our community, in educational institutions and our workplaces to make it more common place to openly talk in a group or one to one with someone else about mental health or the concerns you have of a family member.This obviously needs to be in a well structured setting with the back up of sign posting techniques to professional mental health services. We can also become triggered or upset by listening to others stories so to facilitate peer support groups, they need to be well planned and set guidelines with boundaries.

In November 2016, I was involved in the developments of a new north manchester MIND group and this is still operating and expanding today. The group now has a social media page to promote its valuable and life-changing service. The peer support service model is saving lives and keeping people positive. Please like the page and find out more. MIND has helped me so much, in ways I cant describe! Well, they have helped save my life. Quite simple!

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