A celebration of Peer Support

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Welcome to another blog post from mental health carer Matthew Mckenzie. On this blog I want to raise awareness of peer support. As you know Carers struggle to provide support and care for those suffering mental health distress.  We also can have psychiatrists, care coordinators and therapists who may feel distant from those going through a difficult time.

I have been a carer for many years and have had access to support groups, medication provided to the person I care for, access to referrals, assessment forms and also care coordinators. All these services offered a good deal of support although at times things were lacking in support, until one day someone mentioned peer support. When I saw peer support in action I felt such a service made a lot of difference. However let me explain a bit about what peer support is.

Basically if someone is suffering mental health problems, if they wish, they can be offered a peer supporter to help them cope. A peer supporter is someone who has experienced close to or similar mental health problems and can at least have some understanding of where the sufferer is coming from.  Some peer supporters are trained, while others are experienced in their roles.

There is also different types of peer support ranging from

Mentors
Community groups
Befrienders
self-help groups
And more…

Carers like myself can access befriending networks if one is in place.

When It comes to peer support, the service user or mental health survivor can get support on some of the following

Reduction in Stigma

Many of those going through a mental health crisis tend to avoid seeking help or even talking about how mental ill health affects them, this can be counter productive, especially if their health begins to fail and they refuse to seek help. This might be down to stigma as they can feel no one understands them, they can also feel shame, isolation and confusion and would at least like someone to explain what on earth is going on.

A peer supporter may have also gone through this difficult journey in the past, but somehow they managed to use tools in order to survive such an experience, to make things more helpful, a peer supporter might have also undergone training in order to provide support and with such support they can listen to the patient/service user and provide insight into reducing stigma.

Solidarity

As a carer I have never suffered chronic mental health problems, but I do go through situations where my mental health may go under severe strain. Those going through a tough time may again feel that no one understands them, they may feel that they are suffering alone and wish to be part of something. With peer support there can be strength of identity that states no one is alone and that we are part of something. This is not something that can happen right away, but I can see why peer support can offer solidarity.

Hope for the future

As a carer I struggle to sometimes find hope in myself, let alone finding hope for my loved one. This is when peer support can be of benefit for those who feel they are losing so much. It is like the world if falling apart in front of them and yet all we want is for them to recover, all carers want is for the person to get better. How can this happen if our loved ones feel that no one can relate to them?

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Again, peer supporters may have gone through the very same thing and can offer insight to those struggling on that very same journey. If someone has survived that crisis, then it shows that there can be hope for the future.

Being there as a friend

Not all peer support is there to offer advice, opinions or show the way. Sometimes all thats needed is for someone to listen, I am not saying carers do a bad job or cannot support their loved ones in this way, but with peer support there at least is another option.

We can have peer supporter who will be there to listen so at least the sufferer is able to express themselves, without judgement, without criticism, without being told that they do not understand mental health. Peer support can be there as companionship and can aide in recovery, not to break someone down further.

Building Trust

Peer support can offer one of the most important aspects of mental health, sometimes consultants and psychiatrists can assume, sometimes carers are not patient to help their loved ones, sometimes we can feel that people will report us if we tell them what is bothering us. Service users can feel like they are being judged and this again is where peer support can step in and offer that trust. With trust, there is a way forward where recovery is possible.

A celebration and an education

As a carer I am so much in favour of peer support, without it I feel I am having to play all sort of roles. Sometimes the more support a person can get when they are in crisis, the more there is a chance of recovery. I can even state that I could do with befriending and peer support myself, carers need that network and they also need that hope, solidarity and understanding.

Peer support has been around for some years, as the NHS is going through challenging times, we can only reckon peer support will have to be taken seriously as an option for those who struggle to access mental health services. Financial pressures, lack of staff, lack of those who want to make a difference, yet peer supporters have been working hard to make a difference.

It is time we celebrate their achievements. So when I heard of an event that will celebrate peer support, I thought I had to raise it in this blog post. On Thursday 13th October 2016, Peerfest 2016 will take place at Rich Mix 35-47 Bethnal Green Road.  Here is one of the videos from Minds’ Peerfest 2013.

Peerfest is an annual celebration of Peer support practice across England and Wales. The event is an opportunity to network, share ideas, take part in workshops and debate current issues in peer support.

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You can check out more about Peerfest 2016 from their site which is

https://www.peerfest2016.london/

Hope you can make it. Thank you for reading my blog

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