Today is the first Global Peer Supporter’s Day and I wanted to mark that with a blog post. Peer support is something we all do, but we maybe don’t even realise it. It’s in our nature to find similarities and bond over them. I’ve been lucky to have had really good experiences with peer support from family, and it inspired me to apply for a peer support worker job a few years back. I did this for two years up until I started this internship. Feel like I could write a book on it, so this blog just scratches the surface!
Although peer support is a natural thing and many “professionals” will have their own lived experience, having designated peer workers or support networks allows people to talk about things in a way that they might not with other people. It can be a relief to just have that conversation where you feel like the other person really “gets” where you are coming from. One day, after I gave a talk on my “journey” a lady came up to me in the shopping centre afterwards and told me all about her own experiences. Stuff like this would often happen to me in varying degrees, sometimes when I least expected it, even with people I’d never have expected. Just the power of knowing that someone has been through something similar, and the hope that they won’t judge you as a result is priceless. It also gets a conversation going in society that is great for breaking down stigma around what was once a subject few dared to discuss. Putting yourself out there that way can be hard at times, but you can adapt your approach for different situations and audiences. Ultimately you have to protect yourself, and if you aren’t comfortable sharing stories about your own life then never feel like you should. I go through phases of wanting to share my story to not wanting to talk about it, then going from “mental health activist” mode to being jaded with it. Such is the nature of life!
When I was doing my uni course in Vocational Rehabilitation my final assignment was make an argument for a specific health intervention for the workplace. Having had such great experiences of peer support in the workplace, from my dear (ex) colleague/peer partner in crime Tom, I decided to focus on peer support for workers. When doing my research for this project I came across several workplaces and organisations who use this approach. It was used for debriefing critical incidents, work related stress, disabilities at work and addiction problems. It seems like such an obvious solution, and I hope more employers move towards encouraging peer support. Also, having people with experience deliver training is great because the personal insight adds a different dimension to the subject matter. Peers were delivering mental health awareness training and suicide intervention training. They understood the issues and also the workplace culture, so were in a good position to pass that on to others.
It was a joy to work alongside other peers, and meeting with the peer learning network at Scottish Recovery Network. Should you be a peer worker reading this in Scotland, and you aren’t a member, I would highly recommend it. The Peer Values Framework is a fantastic piece of guidance for anyone hoping to provide this kind of support to others.
I’ve recently been involved in a young people’s peer mentoring project in an admin capacity (for my other job), so I spent Global Peer Supporters Day with people from other projects for a conversation lunch, facilitated by Cyrennians. There were people from criminal justice, mental health and addictions projects who worked one-to-one or in community cafés, bigger organisations and more grass-roots movements. Peer support for the peer support is always nice, and the discussion was a further reminder to me of why we do what we do. Even though I am not a peer worker any more (only as of last month mind you!), I doubt you can be one and then lose that outlook on life. I hope I can use the knowledge and values I gained from being a peer to do the best I can for anyone I work with in the future.
This week I’ve been helping a bit with our Access to Elected Office side of things, so my next blog will be about my own experiences with political involvement and how anxiety can get in the way of that. Until then, feel the power of the peers in your life!