Last time I touched a little bit on what peer support is, but I think it’s something that’s worth looking at in more depth. Peer support as a term is used often in the health and social care world, and will probably be used even more as we’re moving into the world of Social Prescribing. It’s great that statutory organisations are starting to see its value, but I’m not sure that we all have the same understanding of what we actually mean by it. Some people would say they are only turning to it now because money is tight and services are stretched, but to me that’s irrelevant, the important thing is to grab the opportunities that this opens up for the development of peer support in Norfolk.
Ok so what actually is it? Well, I’d be interested to hear your ideas, but this is essentially what I think it is; LISTENING and HEARING what someone has to say. It’s easy to say yes, I’m listening, but actually we can listen and do other things at the same time, so how much do we really hear and take in? How often have you been in a meeting where after a while your eyes just glaze over and you start looking out of the window or start thinking about what to have for dinner? I must admit it, I’m as guilty of that as anyone! With peer support it’s different, the sole focus is on being with the person, making them feel comfortable and hearing whatever it is they want to tell you about what’s going on in their life. That could be about anything; their worries about a PIP medical assessment, bereavement, living with cancer, trying to overcome a bout of severe depression or concerns about breast feeding. There are millions of things that people might want to share, some of which they may also share with their doctors or other professionals. The difference in peer support is that the listener will share their own experiences and understanding to support the person and help them through it. The person will know that they are not alone or isolated and that other people really get what they’re going through because they’ve been there.
It’s not about making someone ‘better’ or fixing anything. Sometimes people feel able to move forward just because they’ve been able to ‘get it off their chest’ to someone who really understands. You may go to one of our member groups and feel happier for having a cup of tea and chat with others living near you who have similar issues and/or interests.
That’s not to say that peer support is all about problems and ‘issues’. If you belong to a group on Facebook where people can share views and comments, that’s peer support. I like Kate Bush and joined her Facebook group many years ago to keep up with news, new releases and tours. I admit, I don’t often write anything there, but after going to one of her shows in 2014, I looked at the site to see what others were saying. It was great to see people commenting from all over the world about what they thought of the show, what their favourite song was etc. None of my friends particularly like her, so it was a place where I could share my own joy at having been there with people who had that in common. I’m sure you have similar experiences relating to bands you’ve seen or even football matches where your team won a trophy. Norwich City Supporters Club is a place for fans to share their joys and sorrows each time the team plays. They can discuss tactics, criticise the ref or choose man of the match together; this too is peer support.
Whatever form it takes, groups, online forums or one to one face to face, at the end of the day it’s all about hearing someone’s story and relating it to your own. It’s as simple or as complicated as that!