Peer support can take many forms. While the ways people connect can vary, the most important part of peer support is that you feel heard and supported by others.
All good peer support should include:
- A sense of purpose: everyone involved knows what you're working towards.
- Everyone both gives and receives support. How much you give and receive will vary over time.
- Participants sharing their experience of mental health problems.
There is a wide range of peer support options, although what is available in your area may vary. You can usually participate in more than one type at a time. This page covers:
Online peer support
Online peer support offers lots of choices: when, where and how much you use it is up to you. It can be moderated (by volunteers or trained staff) or unmoderated. You might use:
- social media sites like Facebook or Twitter where people can share their experiences in public or closed groups
- communities dedicated to online support such as Mind's Elefriends, and Bipolar UK's eCommunity, which are moderated by trained staff
|What are the benefits of online support?
||What should I be aware of?
- It may be easier to find groups that are relevant to your experiences.
- You can access support whenever you have an internet connection.
- You can stay anonymous if that feels more comfortable.
- Sites may not be moderated or managed by people you can easily contact.
- You might not feel comfortable sharing your experiences on public sites.
- It might feel less personal or overwhelming if there are a lot of users on the site.
See our pages on staying safe online for information to help you to think about what you're comfortable sharing online.
Peer support groups
Groups meeting in person to discuss experiences are sometimes called self-help or support groups. Sessions may be held in: drop-in centres, in-patient care, your local Mind libraries or community centres
Groups can focus on different things, for example:
- Shared experiences: for example, identifying as LGBTQ, hearing voices, or having a shared cultural background.
- Shared diagnosis: for example, Bipolar UK and Anxiety UK's support groups and BEAT's groups for people who experience eating disorders.
- Shared interest: for example, music, spoken word, cooking, or gardening groups provide a space to share experiences around a shared interest.
Each group will be different. You could ask the organiser for more information before you go along, or try more than one group to find what's right for you.
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.
One-to-one peer support
One-to-one peer support can also be called mentoring or befriending. Some one-to-one support aims to work through exercises together, address a particular challenge you're facing, or set goals. Other one-to-one peer support can be less structured, and may feel more comfortable if you'd prefer to avoid a group setting.
One-to-one support can be useful if you're dealing with a change in circumstances, such as starting university or becoming a parent. This kind of support is often available over the phone or by email, as well as in person.
Student Minds run on campus peer support for students, and organisations like HomeStart run befriending services. See our pages on student life and coping as a parent for more information.
Formal or informal support?
Some peer support is facilitated by trained, paid staff who have experience of mental health problems. Online communities may have trained moderators who help posters share their experiences with others safely.
More informal support may be facilitated by volunteers with experience of mental health problems, either online or in person.
What kind of support you feel comfortable with is personal but whatever type of peer support you choose should make you feel supported and safe.
This information was published in June 2016. We will revise it in 2019.