About Peer Support Groups
These are self-help groups, where members have a shared experience and can give and receive support in a safe environment. In this context, the shared experience is mental illness and the aim is to help each other towards improved mental health.
The ground rules for the group and the 'mechanics' e.g. how often to meet, where and when etc, should be decided by group members, although the rules nearly always involve confidentiality and respect for each other's views.
Groups can operate on an open 'drop-in' basis or they can be 'closed' groups. The latter may have been formed by a group of individuals who have previously met during group therapy courses organised by the Health Service. Groups can be very focused on mental health support or can be more of a social opportunity. Of course, there is no reason why an effective group cannot embrace practical support and social contact.
The Forum has been involved in piloting or assisting a handful of such groups and we hope to encourage the formation of more in the future.
“It means sharing our vulnerabilities and our strengths and finding value in each other's help.”
MacNeil and Mead (2003) Discovering the fidelity standards of peer support.
“Peer support is not like clinical support. In peer support we understand each other because we've been there, shared similar experiences.”
Copeland, Mary Ellen and Mead, Shery (2004) Wellness Recovery Plan and Peer Support.
“Peer support is a system of giving and receiving help, founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility and mutual agreement of what is helpful.”
Mead, Shery and MacNeil, Cheryl; Peer support, a systemic approach.
Why Peer Support could help...
- It is reassuring to meet others who are experiencing just the same kind of feelings; to know you are not the only one
- When everyone is in “the same boat” it is easier to feel trusting, accepted and understood; the support is relaxed and mutual
- There is an opportunity to give as well as receive support, which can make you feel better about yourself
- It is encouraging to hear about self-help tips that have worked for other people and to have the support of the group to try them out yourself
- It can be easier to socialise in a supportive environment and being part of the peer network means there can be people within reach that you can contact
- There isn't any pressure; it is ok to participate in whatever way you are able, knowing it is very likely that others will understand any difficulties
Sharing self-help tips and ideas has been such a useful aspect of the group that we wanted to open this up to more people who may find them beneficial. So we decided to have a regular column in Reflections to share with you some of our favourite self-help tools. Some of them are drawn from recognised therapies and others are our own inventions. They may not be right for everyone, but work well for some of us so may do for you too. Let us know what you think.
- For the worries that strike in the middle of the night, I have learnt to not try and suppress them. I look at each one and assess it by saying “Can I deal with this now?” in other words “Is there anything that can be done about this now, i.e. 3 o'clock in the morning?”. The answer to that is usually “NO!” And then I reassure myself and say “It's night-time, this is the time to relax in your warm bed, there'll be time to deal with this in the day.”
- If I wake up in the night or can't get to sleep I count down slowly from 50 visualising each number. If I lose my place by wandering off and worrying about something, I start again. If really anxious I count up from 0 at the same time eg. 50, 0, 49, 1, 48, 2
- Instead of trying to figure out what you need to do to make yourself feel better when things are bad, just do something that you enjoy, that feels good and that makes you know you are being kind to yourself
- Address your negative thoughts as if they are an invading force in your mind and tell them to “Go away!” (only in less polite terms!). Be very firm about this and fill the space left in your mind with positive thoughts about yourself. Imagine you are in alliance with these positive thoughts and are helping them to win back territory from the negative ones. Make no mistake, this is a fight to win back control of your own mind
- Caffeine can be unhelpful if you suffer from anxiety or depression as it raises the levels of stress hormones like cortisone in your system. Try to limit your intake if possible
- Apply Lavender essential oil to the temples, jaw, wrists and other tense spots. Carry it around with you so you can get instant relief. When feeling extremely stressed, inhale it deeply from the bottle
Remember that individual guided self-help sessions or a computer-based self-help programme called “Beating the Blues” are available through your GP. Also, anyone can access another self-help computer programme at www.livinglifetothefull.com