Peer support

Explains what peer support is, what types there are, how it can help you and how to access it.

Your stories

Joining a support group

Jim blogs about joining his local support group.

Posted on 28/09/2016

Finding a place to fit in

Sue blogs about finding a place to fit in at her local peer support group.

Posted on 28/09/2016

What happens in peer support?

What happens during peer support sessions will depend on the type of activity you're involved with. The aim of peer support is to share your experiences with people who understand and respect you.

This happens in lots of different ways. It might be helpful to think about a few things before you decide what you'd like to try:

Staying safe

In general:

  • Try to be aware of how you're feeling. If you're not feeling well, you might find hearing about other people's experiences more difficult.
  • 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.
  • If you're not sure how to express yourself, try to focus on sharing how you feel (eg angry, sad, scared).
  • If you feel like you need a break for any reason, it's okay to take some time out from the session.

If you're worried about going along to a new group, you could:

  • take a friend or family member with you the first time you go along
  • choose a group where the meetings are held in a public space such as a library, community centre or village hall

If you're thinking about joining an online community, you may want to think more about how you can stay safe online.

Things I was ashamed of and felt guilt for were common in the group. It was a profound and powerful experience.

How is the support structured?

Peer support can be:

  • Formal - often with a set time that you attend a group or meet with someone, usually either in person or on the phone. There are usually trained staff or volunteers supporting people who are seeking help with their mental health.
  • Informal - peer support services you can drop into when you want to, either online or offline.

How do I access support?

It might be:

  • In person - talking to someone face to face
  • Remotely - having conversations over the phone or by email (see our page on telephone support for more information)
  • Online - using websites or social networks to talk to others

You might also want to check if the support is ongoing or limited - can you keep going as long as you need to or will there be a set number of sessions?

Is there a moderator?

Groups can be:

  • Facilitated or moderated - groups with a formal leader, or online moderators, to keep the space and conversation safe.
  • Open - More informal peer support that is open for anyone to contribute.

Is there a specific focus?

Depending on what you'd like support with, you might be interested in groups that are:

  • Specific - peer support that is for people with a specific diagnosis (eg Bipolar Disorder or BPD), or experiences (eg hearing voices or eating problems)
  • General - peer support for people experiencing a range of problems, often including things that aren't mental health problems but can be linked to them, like loneliness or parenting worries.
  • Activity-based - some groups focus on activities such as spoken word, ecotherapy, sport or arts therapy which help people to connect.

How many people are involved?

Peer support can take place:

  • In groups - peer support where lots of people come together to support each other
  • One-to-one - peer support, usually provided by the NHS or a charity, where you speak to someone who has had similar experiences to you (online, in person, by phone or email)

Can I become 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 may want to use your experiences to help others by:

  • volunteering as a peer supporter for people who share your specific experience or diagnosis. Many organisations such as Bipolar UK, and Beat (for people experiencing eating problems) provide opportunities to volunteer.
  • setting up your own group or being involved in group facilitation. Try asking at your group, searching online, or looking at our pages about getting more involved in peer support to find out more.

I found support and validation and met some really interesting and insightful people. 

> Read Craig's blog about online support

This information was published in June 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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