“For the first time I felt that someone truly understood about anorexia and could relate to the fear of putting on weight"
Holly is just one of the 150 people that received peer support from Together over the past year alone. Peer support involves being supported by someone with similar experiences to yourself, who has chosen to use their lived experience of mental distress to support you towards improving your wellbeing. It can be of immense value, particularly for people who have not found statutory services alone to be useful. As Holly describes,
“I really valued the suggestions my Peer Supporter made to help me find my own ways of moving forward. I felt that, as they had been there themselves, their suggestions may actually work. Since then I’ve been able to do so much more than I thought I could.”
When peer support is offered on an equal and reciprocal basis it can help people take huge strides towards better mental health and achieving the life they want to lead. This is because “the person helping you has made a personal choice to do so and all that interests them is what will help you towards recovery,” says Holly.
In the past year alone Together has provided over 480 hours of peer support, which is the equivalent to the length of time it takes to fly around the world 10 times. Our peer support model was developed alongside people who have experienced mental distress. We worked as a team to design, produce and deliver training for Peer Supporters covering areas such as coaching, goal setting and focusing on people’s strengths. We are continually developing our training and support opportunities for those that wish to become Peer Supporters, and embedding high quality peer support in our services, in a way that is service user led, in order to help as many people as possible on their journey towards better mental wellbeing.
Becoming a Peer Supporter is often a natural progression for those who have received peer support. Almost all of the people who have attended Together’s Peer Support Training courses reported an increase in their own wellbeing and also have reported reduced social isolation, reduced use of other services and increased confidence as a result. Having seen the benefits first hand, Holly has gone on to attend Together’s training course:
“It was while I was receiving peer support that I first thought I wanted to do something to help others. I’ve now done Together’s four-day peer support training course and look forward to being able to use my own experience to help someone else. I want to do this because I believe everyone deserves the chance to achieve recovery.”
Currently 26 of Together’s services offer peer support and we are ambitious in our aim to provide access to peer support within all of our services over the coming years. We’re committed to ensuring that the peer support we offer is of the highest quality. One of the biggest dangers to this is an absence of training, support and supervision offered to Peer Supporters. To combat this we only offer peer support in places where we have a Peer Support Coordinator – who themselves has lived experience – on board to deliver training, match people and support our Peer Supporters. By doing so, we can ensure that each and every one of our Peer Supporters has the support they need to be able to support others. For Holly, her experience has led to her taking steps towards leading a more independent and fulfilling life: “There have been days when I have felt like giving up, but mostly I feel very glad that I am fighting each day to gain back the life I deserve.” We want more people to be able to benefit from peer support so we won’t stop until everyone within our services is able to access it.