As members of the blogging community, we’re already experiencing a form of peer support and seeing the benefits of it. It also exists in a more formal sense, with trained peer support workers (PSWs) forming part of health care teams. I wanted to explore that a little bit here.
What peer support is
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has this to say:
“Peer support programs work by offering people support, encouragement, and hope that recovery is possible. Peer support considers the wellness of the whole person and focuses on health and recovery rather than illness and disability, in order to assist people in finding their own path to recovery.”
The relationship to the medical model can vary widely. The psychiatric survivor movement was more anti-medical model, while in other cases, PSWs work in partnership alongside care based on the medical model. Regardless, the goal is not illness treatment; instead, the relationship is the basis for promoting personal recovery. While medical services aren’t always voluntary, peer-based approaches are based on freedom of choice.
What it might look like in practice
One possible format is self-help groups; Alcoholics Anonymous is a well-known example. Another is peer-run service organizations. Some mental health care providers hire PSWs to function as part of an interdisciplinary team.
Mental Health America calls for peer support to be an integral part of mental health and substance abuse programs. They’ve also developed a National Certified Peer Specialist certification program. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed guidelines for the training and practice of PSWs. The delivery of training for PSWs is delivered through a patchwork of local training.
Peer support can promote empowerment, independence, self-expression, and inclusion in terms of fostering community and breaking down hierarchies. It’s focused on psycho-social-spiritual recovery, but research has shown that it can decrease symptom distress and number of hospitalizations, while improving quality of life.
Peer support isn’t a substitute for mental illness treatment, nor is it intended to be. While I’m very much in support of the concept, I can’t think of a situation where it would be a kind of formal service that I would choose to seek out. Then again, there’s a variety of community organizations that serve people with mental illnesses, and those don’t interest me either, so I’m probably just a non-participator in general. Informal peer support, though, feels like a better fit for me.
The role of the blogging community
In particular, I’m a big fan of the informal support network we’ve got going on here in the blogosphere. There’s a sense of community and a lack of hierarchy. Even if other people don’t fully understand what we’re experiencing, it’s not hard to find people who just “get it” at a fundamental level. It’s a place where masks can be taken off and confessing abnormality is actually the norm, and it has the power to be very therapeutic.
It’s hard to say if this form of peer support has had any tangible benefits related to my illness. During the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve had a substantial illness-related functional decline, and I’m not sure if the support I’ve asked here has impacted that at all. Still, this is where the majority of my social interaction occurs, and it’s far more accessible than trying to connect with “normal” people “in real life.”
Before I started blogging 2 1/2 years ago, I had no idea that this amazing informal support network even existed. Even just five years ago, I don’t know that I would have accessed it even if I had known. I’m just glad it was here at the right time for me.
Is peer support something that’s played a role at all in your own wellbeing?