Before trying peer support, it might help to ask yourself these questions:
- Can I try opening up? It can sometimes be difficult sharing your experiences and feelings. It's common to feel nervous or worried about what people will say, and it's likely that your peers will understand. They might feel the same way too and it's up to you how much you share.
- Is it the right time? You might decide that peer support isn't what you need at the moment. Many people use peer support more at certain times and less at others, depending on what feels helpful at the time.
- Do I want to focus on talking or doing activities? You might want to take part in indoor or outdoor activities, or you might prefer talking and discussion. If you're not sure what feels right for you, it might help to explore different options before deciding.
That shared experience of helping someone you don't know and having them open up to you is a wonderful, life-affirming experience.
- How do I want to access support? You might find online peer support helpful because you can often access it quickly and can use most websites for free. Or you might prefer to take part in face-to-face support. You might find it helpful to use more than one type of support, or to try different things before deciding what you prefer. See our pages on online mental health for information about using online peer support safely and maintaining your wellbeing online.
- Might it be difficult hearing about others' experiences? Listening to other people is a big part of peer support. This can help you feel less alone or introduce you to new ways of coping, but there might also be times when other people's experiences feel unhelpful or triggering for you.
The kind of support that works for you is completely personal. If you aren't finding something helpful, you can try something else.
I'll be honest, I had to go through a number of groups before I found one that I felt ok with and fitted in.
Looking after yourself
When taking part in peer support, it's important to think about how it might affect your wellbeing. This includes the parts of peer support which may be helpful for you, but also what you might find difficult. For example:
- Try to notice how you're feeling, as there might be times when you aren't up to supporting others.
- You should feel free to share what you feel comfortable with, but it's worth thinking about how it makes you feel and how it might affect others.
- Remember to take time out if you need a break for any reason.
- Make sure you know how to get help in a crisis. For example, you can call Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123 or email [email protected]
Read Nikki's story about how peer support can be difficult and stressful at times, but it has transformed her life.
What if peer support doesn't work for me?
Although many people find peer support helpful, not everyone does. You might find that it doesn't suit you, or doesn't meet your needs. If you've tried something and it hasn't helped, it's important not to blame yourself.
Some people find peer support useful at some times and not others. If it's not the right thing for you now, you should still be able to access it in the future if you want to.
See our guide to seeking help for a mental health problem for other options you could explore.
What if I have a complaint?
If you have a complaint, it could help to discuss your concerns with whoever organises your peer support group or service and ask about any ways you can make a complaint. You could also discuss it with your peers, if you feel comfortable doing so.
This information was published in July 2019. We will revise it in 2022.