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Designing the women’s peer support toolkit

There is a high prevalence of mental health issues amongst women in our society and, having been culturally conditioned to put their own needs last, women may not seek help. Waiting lists for mental health treatment are long and there is stigma attached. However, even if a person is not ready to talk about their difficulties, they can benefit from peer support.

This resource is designed to provide a foundation for creating a peer support group that is accessible and can benefit anyone, but addresses issues that are specific to women from all different backgrounds. Equality and inclusion are key components of this toolkit and can support Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women in setting up groups that meet the needs of these communities. It is also a resource that existing peer support groups can use to improve and evolve their provision.

Collective experience, community and connection are really important for women in particular. Our aim is to create a fluid, intuitive guide rather than a rigid how-to. We recognise that there is no ‘right way’ to do peer support. This toolkit is created by peer supporters for peer supporters, breaking down preconceived barriers about who can provide mental health support. It aims to take the mystery out of peer support, and provide practical tips about how to do it. We hope to make sure that as many women as possible know that they are not alone.

Women make up over half (50.8%) of the resident population of England and Wales and at the last census, 13.9% or 3.9 million of these women were from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Data from the latest Annual Population Survey (Jan – Dec 2019) shows that BAME women currently make up 16% of the female working age population of England and Wales. White women make up the remaining 84%.

It was reported by the government in 2014, 29% of Black/Black British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, and 28.7% of women from a Mixed Other background reported the same. That’s a higher rate than for White British women or Other White women – 21% and 16% respectively. The percentage has since most likely increased with the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Women Side by Side Programme: Partners

Mind and Agenda, the Alliance for Women and Girls at Risk, worked together on this programme of peer support which aimed to increase the availability of high-quality peer support for women. The programme combined and developed both the expertise of the women’s sector to deliver gender-specific support and Mind’s experience of delivering community-based mental health peer support. The programme grant funded £1.3m to 67 third sector organisations including five women’s hubs, four in England and one in Wales, to deliver women’s peer support for 12 months. Some example of projects involved in this programme include:

Clean Break – a women’s theatre organisation which works in prisons and in communities with women who have experienced the criminal justice system.

Safer Women – taking a women-centred approach to the mental health and wellbeing of women seeking asylum, refugees and new migrants in Kirklees.

The Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Group – working predominately with BAME women to address mental heath problems in women affected by the Grenfell disaster.

See a list of all the projects involved in this programme.

The hubs, run by women’s organisations, used their specialist expertise and links to community organisations to make sure all projects understood and responded to women’s specific needs, including their experiences of trauma and abuse.

Find out more information on the programme, including the evaluation completed by the McPin Foundation and St George's University.

The programme was a rich learning experience for all those taking part. This toolkit allows us to share that information in a way that is unique, informal, and experiential.

The aim of this toolkit

This toolkit was created for individuals who identify as women and who want to set up or develop a peer support group for women with shared experiences. It doesn’t matter how small, ‘grassroots’ or informal your group is. You may be just a group of friends at a café. This toolkit is for anyone who wants to do women’s peer support in any way they can.

This includes Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women from different backgrounds. The toolkit will provide you with varied approaches to ensure you deliver peer support that is culturally appropriate and meets the needs of these women. It is widely reported that BAME women’s mental health is important because they face individual and societal challenges that affect their access to mental health services, including peer support.

This toolkit can be used alongside the original Side by Side toolkit. We recommend that you involve your whole group, not just the leaders, in its use: peer support is something we do with group members, not to them. This toolkit should be a living document - interactive, intuitive, and inclusive. You can dip in and out as you need to. People can add their own experiences and access the information they need immediately. It is constantly evolving and should never be set in stone.

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