Peer support, as the name suggests, is all about supporting each other, your peers, through difficult times. These don't have to be related to mental illness, peer support works for any number of issues.
Basically peer support, in the context of mental illness, is a system of helping and supporting each other based on respect, empathy, shared experience and responsibility under a mutually-agreed framework of what is helpful. This can be social, emotional or even practical support, but it is a two-way street.
Crucially, the help and support offered through peer support is reciprocal. Think of professional therapy as a one-way street; you don't help and support your therapist as they do you, but peer support helps all parties over a period of time.
Peer Support has long played an important role in recovery from mental illness. One of the reasons stigma around mental illness still exists is often because it's hard, for those who may have never experienced it, to relate to those who have (or do). After all, we 'look alright'.
Those who share the experience of living with mental illness often find comfort and kinship with those who do know exactly how it feels. Even if they don't share the same diagnosis or condition, that knowing feeling of relative familiarity and understanding is all part of peer support and what makes it work so well.
It is a huge part of the work we are planning to do here at Men Tell Health over the coming months. We believe that it really is the future of mental health care. As funding is cut across the board, the need for peer-led support grows. We are determined, with your help, to be an active part of that initiative.
HOW CAN PEER SUPPORT HELP?
By building on the experiences of those taking part, peer support offers people a chance to help each other. This doesn't necessarily happen at the same time, but over the course of the group, all parties will (hopefully) engage, accept and offer help to other members of the group.
By empowering each other through shared experience, peer support allows people to come together for a cause they all believe will help them. It not only helps the people taking part, through whatever distress or problems they face, but also gives them a very real sense of community, something we are very passionate about here at Men Tell.
Each person taking part will provide a valuable insight to the condition being discussed. If you thought you were going through something alone, chances are you won't be. Someone at a peer support group will be overjoyed that you have managed to verbalise their feelings and share their story of recovery with the group.
Not only does it build stronger communities, if has been shown to lead to cost savings in the wider area. Sadly, this is a cold, hard fact that many authorities are facing up too. We might not like or agree with it, but we have to make the best of it and peer support is perfectly placed to do so.
Peer support doesn't necessarily have to take place with is geographically convenient. Our very own upcoming '#MHWingMan' initiative allows you to help those looking for help via social media. By adding '#MHWingMan' to your Twitter profile, people will know that, if they are part of our community and feeling low for any reason, you are someone willing to listen to them. Peer support at its virtual best!
If you have any experience about how peer support has helped you and you'd like to share it with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.