About Peer Support

Synergy embraces the ethos and values of the user movement. The National User Network identifies a number of re-occurring themes within the user movement; opposition to coercion, opposition to compulsory treatment, opposition to psychiatric diagnosis, demand for greater treatment choice and the demand for greater citizenship. Peer-support groups form a fundamental part of a community’s social capital and present an essential way for individuals to cope with the pressing needs of social exclusion.

Peer-led self-help groups like Synergy can be essential in helping to break down barriers, facilitate dialogue and educate professionals and the wider community about reciprocal help and citizen self-activation. The Synergy project has demonstrated its potential to improve people’s experience in the community; while at the same time challenging mainstream day services recovery models. Over the years, there has been a growing focus on recovery within mental health services. A development within the survivors’ movement is that they have created their own concept of recovery which is conceptually distinct from any medical definition of remission of symptoms; central to which is a reclaiming of valued social roles and positive self-identity.

It is creating authentic relationships with people and having a sense of community and also seeing recovery as a journey instead of a destination, you don’t necessarily get better; you might go up and down on your road to recovery. You might have knock backs, but you carry on.

JamesSynergy Member

Recovery may involve a journey both of personal change and social (re)engagement which enable a social environment within which recovery may be supported (Tew et al. 2012). James’ comment links with the social model of disability in focusing on wider processes in the social mainstream in which markers of social differences may be used to exclude and discriminate against those with impairments.

Synergy space is where processes of personal and social change occur that can lay foundations for a rewarding and meaningful life. This may involve re-discovering some degree of self-efficacy: a combination of beliefs and abilities that underscores one’s confidence in taking the initiative and starting to have influence over one’s

Synergy offers opportunities, but not through routine plans of care and self-development. Pockets of user led and run services are still challenging the oppressive medical model, by creating their own opportunities where people socialize, do art on their own terms, rather than a term given to them by psychiatrists, psychologists and managers.

Synergy members are developing individually as well as managing their own space and they understand the importance of caring relationships in the community. This is the reason why peer led mental health day services are vital for service users combining both the social model of disability and feminist ethics of care to conceptualize the reciprocity of care.

Synergy inspires people through music and art. This means that through creative art practices people can enhance their emotional intelligence, confidence and feel empowered. This shows how people inspire each other in rediscovering themselves through the art activities, socialization and volunteering in and out of Synergy.

Synergy members gain an important sense of purpose by understanding and cultivating their unique skills in music, art, cooking and helping relationships. Synergy participants challenge the construction of mental health users as needy, dependent and lacking in agency.

Peer-to-Peer Support

Peer support is an effective approach to mental health recovery. People who live with their own mental health challenges support other people who live with mental health challenge. Peer support can take place between two people and in small or large groups.

Peer support is about experiences, listening as an equal and without judgement, and sharing experiences of recovery. Together, peers explore possibilities and choices, inspiring hope and trust, treating each other with respect and dignity. Each person involved has experience of living with mental health issues, and strongly believes in recovery.

The support gained can include: assistance in engaging with health and social care professionals; support to understand what services are available; accessing community, recreation and leisure activities; support to access educational and employment opportunities; help with form filling, CVs, and completing job applications.

Peer support can be about building friendships, developing relationships and increasing social activities. If you would like to find out more please contact us here.

Evidence

In a society that encourages individualism and self reliance over co-dependence, it is so often difficult for vulnerable individuals to find the courage or impetus to seek the necessary support, and to find relevant services within their communities. In this way, individuals are also prevented from gaining the tools necessary to help maintain their own well-being, resulting in a negative impact on community well-being as a whole and further exacerbating the problem.

The peer-led group at Synergy Creative Community is primarily made up of individuals with previous mental health diagnosis, with a large proportion having been diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar and depression, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Many of our members have previously been hospitalised, and seek support in integrating and finding valuable roles within the wider community. Members rely on the weekly drop-in service to help them sustain a healthy lifestyle, to socialise and engage with others, use creativity as a tool to self discovery and development; helping to build confidence and gain the necessary life skills and tools to maintain their own well-being in a supportive and peer-led environment.

Activities are targeted at prevention as well as recovery, acting as a bridge between the hospital or clinical services and wider community; reducing the risk of isolation and hospital admittance rates, and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.

A recent case study review suggests peer-to-peer support services are: ‘an innovative approach to reducing suicide, self-harm, reliance on public health services (for example GPs and hospital stays), offering a holistic and social approach to mental health’, and it further identifies that engagement in peer-to-peer activities potentially provide ‘long-term benefits by reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions and treatment.’ Mirika Flegg, Maggie Gordon-Walker, Shona Maguire, (2015).

A number of recent studies suggest peer-led services could be an effective approach to improve mental health outcomes, and benefits of involving peer support workers are noted to provide something traditional services may lack such as increased hope, social connections and improved self-esteem (Repper and Carter, 2011). It has also been suggested as a more effective long-term solution by reducing stigma and aiding in ongoing recovery (Ockwell, 2012; Slade, 2009). A three-year study by Min et al. (2007) highlights the longer-term benefits of peer support in reducing hospital admissions.