Peer support refers to a mutually beneficial relationship whereby individuals who have experienced, or who are experiencing mental illness or mental distress, give and receive support to bring about a desired social or personal change (Solomon, 2004). The relationships between peers are valued for their reciprocity, and allow for sharing of experiences, and support (Mead, Hilton, & Curtis, 2001). Often, one peer in the relationship is further along their road to recovery and uses their experience to support others who are in need (Davidson, Chinman, Sells, & Rowe, 2006).
Based on a review of literature by Julie Repper and Tim Carter (2011), the majority of research evidence highlights positive results for both individuals involved in peer-support.
Impact on the consumers:
- Reducing hospital admission and re-admission rates
- Improved community integration
- Increased individual empowerment
- Improved thinking and behaviours
- Increased independence
- Improved stability in work, education and training
- Increased control of symptoms and more involvement in treatment
- Improved self-esteem and confidence
- Improved social functioning, relationship building, and social support
- Increased empathy and acceptance
- Reduced self-stigma
- Provide a sense of hope for the future
Impact on the supporters:
- Increased self-esteem and empowerment
- Improved community integration
- Improved communication
- Reduced stigma
- Develop skills – social and professional
- Enhance personal growth and recovery
Some challenges to consider:
- Setting Boundaries – this may look different in every relationship but critical to set these from the start to ensure both individuals feel secure and supported.
- Power Differentials – if this occurs, it is important to minimize and work through to ensure an honest, helpful and mutually beneficial relationship
- Stress – it can be emotionally challenging to support individuals going through mental distress. It is important to ensure self-care for both individuals and manage workloads to ensure they are able to manage
With the high rates of mental health issues in the workplace, peer- support may serve as an effective part of the solution in the workplace. Ottawa police recently approved a business plan to invest in mental health peer support for police officers. See their recent article in the news highlighting their efforts.
Peer support is used in many workplaces in both confidential, online, by phone, and in person manners. Many workplaces have reported that sharing of stories from their employees experiencing mental health challenges has helped to reduce stigma in the workplace and open the conversation for more mental health education and support. Has your workplace adopted any of these strategies? What has worked for you?
Want to know what peer-support could look like in your office? Contact Us for a free consultation!
Davidson, L., Chinman, M., Sells, D., & Rowe, M. (2006). Peer support among adults with serious mental illness: A report from the field. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 32(3), 443–445.
Mead, S., Hilton, D., & Curtis, L. (2001). Peer support: A theoretical perspective. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 25(2), 134–141.
Repper, J & Carter, T. (2011). A review of the literature on peer support in mental health services. Journal of Mental Health, 20 (4): 392-411.
Solomon, P. (2004). Peer support/peer provided services underlying processes, benefits and critical ingredients. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27(4), 392–401.