There are a number of different way to find and access a type of peer support that suits you. You can often start doing peer support without a referral from your GP, although there are some types of support that do need your GP to refer you.
You may be able to access peer support through:
Questions to ask before starting peer support
You might find it helpful to ask someone, such as a group organiser or moderator, these questions about the peer support they offer:
- How is the support structured?
- Are the sessions at set times?
- Can I use the support for as long as I need to, or is it limited?
- Who leads or moderates the group?
- How many people take part?
- Can I bring someone with me?
- How can I find and access the venue where the support takes place?
- What ground rules or guidelines will I be asked to agree to?
- What might I be asked to do in the sessions?
- What can I do if I have a question, concern or complaint?
Some NHS services run peer support groups. For example, this may be available within hospitals or organised by community mental health teams (CMHTs). You might need a referral from your GP to attend these types of support.
Your doctor or health care team might also have details of other support options in your area, such as charity or community groups.
Many local Minds offer different types of peer support service across England and Wales. To find out what's available in your area, you can ask Mind's Infoline or contact your nearest local Mind branch.
Mind's peer support directory
If you live in England, Mind's peer support directory lists some local options for peer support in different regions.
This includes some services offered by local Minds, and some provided by other organisations, so you may find a service in your local area.
There is a wide range of peer support available online. For example:
- Mind runs the online support community Elefriends, which is open to anyone over 18.
- Website such as Big White Wall can offer you free access to online peer support, although this is sometimes not available free if you live in certain parts of the UK. If your local area is eligible for this, you may be able to gain access with a GP referral or through your university.
- Our guide to online mental health has more information on online support tools and looking after your safety online.
It’s also helped me to feel more accepting and at peace with who I am.
Community and voluntary groups
Many community and third sector (charity) organisations provide peer support, although they're often not very well known and may not be easy to find.
These are some ideas to help you find out what may be available in your area:
- Ask your local library or community centre. They might know about groups which are run near you.
- Mind's Infoline can help you find support options in your area.
- Explore our useful contacts for different diagnoses and experiences. Each topic in our mental health A-Z has a list of useful contacts related to that topic. This includes many organisations that provide peer support focused on a particular diagnosis or experience.
- Do an internet search to look for details of online or offline peer support. You might also find details of local groups on social media. Our guide to online mental health has more information about using online support.
- If you live in England, you can find details of support groups on the Rethink Mental Illness website and the Together UK website. The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) website lists groups in some local areas.
- If you live in Wales, Hafal provides some peer support services, including befriending.
- If you identify as a member of an LGBTIQ+ community, Stonewall has a database of local groups which you may find helpful.
- If you're from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community, there may be groups in your area for people from your community. Your local Mind may offer this type of support, or you can search Mind's peer support directory for other local services.
- For older people, Age UK runs a telephone befriending service, as well as peer support and befriending services through local Age UK branches.
- Befriending Networks lists befriending services in the UK, including in England and Wales.
Read Rabia's story about setting up a peer support group for black and minority ethnic women aged over 50.
Peer support in rural areas
If you live in a rural area, mental health services and support may be more spread out. Your nearest local Mind should be able to suggest the most convenient options.
There are also several organisations that help support rural communities which may be able to help you access peer support, including the Farming Community Network (FCN) and Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE).
Online support services like Mind's Elefriends can also be useful if you live in a rural area and struggle to find people who understand your experiences.
The stories shared were a personal revelation. Behaviours and thoughts I had kept secret and hidden for years were being mirrored by the words of others.
Student Minds runs on-campus peer support groups for student at some universities. You could also ask your student union, advice team or wellbeing centre for information about peer support. Or your university may be able to give you access to Big White Wall.
Becoming a peer supporter
If you attend a group or share your experience online, you're already a peer supporter. Even if you don't speak up often, your presence counts. In peer support, listening to others is as important as sharing your own experiences.
You might also decide to get more involved by:
- volunteering. Many organisations offer opportunities to volunteer, for example by helping to moderate online communities.
- setting up your own group or being involved in group facilitation.
- applying for paid roles as a peer support worker, which will often include training.
Read Zoe's story about how her experiences of using an online support forum led to her becoming a peer support worker.
This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.