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Peer Support for Mental Health
Mental Health " width="400" height="400" />The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) has published a report on the role of peer support in Scottish mental health services.
The report highlights that peer support is not new, and has been operating informally, unnoticed or unremarked in many services. The value and effectiveness of peer support is increasingly recognised, and its success has led to increasing formalising of the role. While there are up to 80 paid posts in Scotland, many more formal and informal peer support roles are operating. Service providers identify suitable people for the role and provide training and employment in the role of supporting their peers.
The report points out the many advantages of peer support across various kinds of mental health service. These include:
- Promoting social inclusion
- Strength, and recovery-based
- Empowering, providing hope and acceptance
- Person-centred support
- Promoting co-production and participation
The basic principle is that people who have a lived experience of mental health issues are seen as part of the solution of the problem. In supporting others, the role has the advantage of insight into what the experience of mental health issues feels like personally. This can often provide or suggest the way forward to a solution.
The actual role of the peer supporter can vary widely - from assisting with stress in major life transitions; as part of recovery in moving from hospital to the community and into employment; 'signposting' to helpful and appropriate links and activities, and any combination of these in working with people to reach their own ideal and individual solution. The Scottish Recovery Network has been instrumental in promoting the roles, and the report points to training and other resources, including a values framework.
It is emphasised that peer support is most often not the entire solution. Most importantly however. I believe, peer support provides a natural process of mutual help which can be sometimes lost in the complexities of organising and delivering large scale services.
A different perspective
Some of the problems of scale which can arise are removing people from their natural support networks to be helped in an institutional setting: the limitations of this have been clearly shown in the Winterbourne View scandal, although not yet fully addressed.
Peer support also provides a helpful and complementary perspective on the traditional valued framework of practitioner - patient assistance. It can help avoid professionalisation issues which might otherwise be exclusive for the person.
Peer support is preventive, and usually effective in the long term. I believe it should be seen as a useful resource, where appropriate, by everyone concerned in providing support to people.