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Mental Health and Peer Support: The Link

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Peer support encompasses individuals or groups that support each other based on shared experiences of mental health challenges. Read further to know more.

Written by

Dr. Ssneha. B

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At February 8, 2024
Reviewed AtFebruary 8, 2024

Introduction:

Peer support is essential as it helps individuals offer or receive support based on shared experiences of mental health issues. Safely and intentionally sharing each other’s stories can promote recovery of mental health and maximize one’s hope and connection with others. Professional peer support workers are trained in specific ways to care for others and implement their experience of mental health issues to support others safely. Peer support boosts confidence and enhances one’s skills in dealing with mental health issues.

What Are the Different Types of Peer Support?

Different types of peer support are as follows:

  • Self-Help Groups or Support Groups: These types of peer support groups are handled by trained peers who focus on shared experiences, education, emotional support, and practical activities.

  • Mentoring or Befriending: This is also known as one-to-one support. In this type of peer support, one meets someone to set goals or to share their feelings. Online forums are one such example.

Peer support is available in various forms. It may be customized for specific groups of individuals, like those with a particular health issue or those from a specific ethnic group, or it can be in person, online, or on the phone. It may also be held weekly or monthly or might happen for a limited time period.

What Are the Benefits of Peer Support?

There is scanty evidence that peer support minimizes mental health symptoms. However, it can act as a powerful tool in promoting recovery. Peer support offers the following benefits for individuals with mental health issues:

  • Induces feelings of hope and empowerment.

  • Enhances the quality of life and promotes emotional resilience.

  • Enhances skills, knowledge, and confidence to deal with mental health.

  • Minimal hospital admissions.

  • Reduced substance abuse.

  • Increased reports of self-recovery.

  • Minimal self-stigma about mental health.

  • One feels less lonely and instills an increased sense of connection.

Not only the receiver but also the person offering peer support gets benefited in the process. Those who offer peer support experience the following benefits:

  • Improved self-esteem by creating a positive impact on others.

  • Social approval and enhanced connectivity with others.

  • Increased feelings of equality in relationships.

  • Obtaining valuable knowledge from peers.

What Issues Can Peer Support Help With?

Peer support can be beneficial for the following issues:

  • Anxiety and depression.

  • Addiction.

  • Divorce or relationship issues.

  • Dementia (a group of symptoms that affect one’s thinking, memory, and social abilities).

  • Personal suffering or traumatic experiences.

  • Other mental health issues.

What Does Peer Support Encompass?

  • Peer support encompasses one individual offering support to others socially, emotionally, or through their previous experiences. The support offered could also be mutual in which offering and obtaining support takes place.

  • Professional peer support is commonly offered in mental health services. A majority of peer support happens in an informal manner between individuals who share similar experiences and connect either online or in person.

  • However, one must remember that peer support is not a substitute for mental health support offered by psychiatrists, psychologists, or counselors. Peer support acts as an aid to these mental health services and focuses on enabling individuals to deal with and overcome their mental health challenges thereby leading a peaceful life.

  • Having the same mental health diagnosis is not mandatory for peer support to operate. One can experience benefits that come from having experienced similar but not necessarily the exact challenges.

Is It Good to Obtain Peer Support?

The following casts light on whether it is good to obtain peer support or not:

  • It is normal to feel hesitant about obtaining peer support. One might find it hard to open up and share their experiences with others. But, one thing to be remembered is that the peers would also probably feel the same or would have gone through a similar experience to the individual. It is completely the individual's wish to decide how much to share with others.

  • Before heading to obtaining peer support, one can think about how they are feeling at present and whether listening to others’ experiences may be difficult for them to assimilate. Though it can help calm an individual by listening to the experiences of others’ thereby being reassured that they are not alone, at times, listening to others’ experiences may upset or trigger an individual.

  • Peer support vastly differs from the customized help that one obtains from their counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. It is important to keep in mind that listening to other individuals’ experiences and the ways they dealt with them might not work the same way for others. Hence, it is important to decide what one expects from a peer support group. Various support groups provide different services. So, if one is not willing to talk or listen to other peoples’ experiences, then they can enroll themselves in a group that offers an activity instead.

  • One must feel free to ask questions they have in their mind before joining a peer support group. These may include questions like the duration of the session, what one might be expected to do, who heads the group, how many people attend, and so on.

  • If one feels that peer support does not suit them, then it is perfectly fine. One need not feel guilty. It is just that one does not feel the peer support to be apt for their current situation. One can probably give it a try again in the future or search for a different type of support that one might feel comfortable with.

There is no hard and fast rule that obtaining peer support benefits all individuals. As stated above, it differs with each individual based on their thought process and preference.

What Are the Prerequisites for Choosing an Appropriate Peer Support?

It is important to consider one’s safety before searching for peer support. The following are some of the prerequisites for choosing an appropriate peer support group:

  • Ensure it is run by trustworthy organizations.

  • Whether the support group follows guidelines to ensure everyone is safe.

  • Keeps the information of the participants private.

  • Are handled by peer support workers or group leaders who are trained, and efficient.

One can get help from a mental health professional, trusted general practitioner, or helpline to choose the right peer support.

What Is the Future of Peer Support?

Peer support has gained popularity in recent years and agreement about a common set of practitioner competencies and a set of peer support national guidelines in behavioral health has been put forth by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Also, the American Psychiatric Association has stated that peer support providers should have adequate training in the level of service that they will provide. There are various state and national certification programs for those who aspire to become peers.

Conclusion:

Peer support can play a crucial role in promoting mental health recovery. This improves the quality of life, instills hope, and empowers individuals to deal with their mental health issues. Peer workers offer the necessary guidance, encouragement, understanding, and practical assistance to support the recovery process. Peer support benefits the individuals as well as those who offer support. Peer support is especially important in mental health systems where violence, discrimination, and historical oppression act as barriers to recovery for many individuals. Deciding whether to obtain peer support or not is the individual's wish. However, one must select a trustworthy peer support group, keeping in mind their safety.

Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Neurology

Tags:

peer relationshipmental health
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