Peer Support Blog – Not only Mental Health, but Also….

6 peer support workers from the Wellbeing Service, NSft, the Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Support Group and myself, met for our second Peer Support Event planning workshop. We looked at results from a peer support survey and our original workshop to come up with a list of possible workshops, talks, films and other activities that we could do at the event itself. Just as a reminder the event is on 28th November at The Forum in Norwich and will hopefully offer something for everyone.

The session on Tuesday really reminded me of why we are doing this. Yes, a single organisation or group can run an event, and yes, of course it can be successful.  But working with others who share an experience of peer support but bring a different lived experience and perspective, I believe opens up so many more possibilities.

As an organisation, we have little experience of one to one peer support work although this is something we have started to develop through learning from others. Peer Support Workers have been used for many years to work with individuals with mental ill health and this compliments the support they get from the medical teams. In Norfolk Nsft, The Wellbeing Service, and others, offer this to people in the community and sometimes in hospital ward settings. For a long time therefore the term peer support, has been associated with Mental Health and nothing else.

I think it’s about time that peer support is officially recognised as something that can be used across the board, in many different forms, to support people from diverse backgrounds and with different lived experience. Equal Lives have been supporting groups of people for many years, but have possibly never linked them to the term ‘peer support’, even though that’s what our Member groups offer. Bridge plus support a number of groups for individuals of different nationalities and ethnicities. Within all these groups it’s natural for one to one support to be given and received over a cuppa.

A few years ago, myself and one of our members, did some work in South Norfolk and spent a lot of time in a small café which offers free soup once a month to anyone in the community. Whatever the conversation; the latest episode of Doctor Who, the latest planning application or ‘I need help with’…. someone, including the café owner would join in the conversation, offer words of support or direct them to someone who could offer that support. This really informal community peer support I think is really key to helping reduce people’s feelings of being isolated in their situation, with their condition, or with their issue. A number of drop in café conversations have popped up recently where you can go along and talk about anything ranging from death to knitting. Craft groups don’t advertise as being about peer support, but the shared interest allows people to talk freely and openly about anything and everything and improves their sense of wellbeing. Men’s Sheds give that same opportunity.

How many times have you leaned over the garden fence to talk to your neighbour about how badly your tomatoes or roses are doing  compared to theirs and what did they do to make them grow? Your neighbour may not be an expert in roses or tomatoes, but he can tell you what he did and share his tips and experience to help you grow yours. We don’t call that peer support, but that’s effectively what it is.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, but I guess I’m trying to say that there is lots of peer support taking place in Norfolk which doesn’t call itself that, that isn’t labeled; and that’s absolutely fine, but we need to recognise that these initiatives are just as valid, perhaps even more so, than the formal one to one or group support that is set up just because it’s in a contract.

All I can say is I’ve really enjoyed working with people offering all these different types of activities, have learnt so much and seen what a difference it can make to the lives of people in Norfolk. For me, it’s the ‘people supporting each other’ bit that’s important. not the label. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about mental ill health, faith, sexuality or disability, because at the end of the day we are all individuals who might want support about all of those things. I’m really looking forward to the event in November where we can showcase some of that work and continue the learning and hope that you’ll be able to come along.