By: Tim De Pass
Finding the form of support that fits best with an individual is crucial when addressing mental health concerns. Whether it be a therapist or group therapy, these supports can have a significant impact on future health outcomes. While receiving professional support is imperative when addressing mental health issues, sometimes speaking to a peer can also have an incredibly positive effect.
Peer support is emotional or practical advice from an individual who has similar lived experiences. This type of support provides a different perspective when imagining what mental health support looks like. At times it can almost feel like you are just talking to a friend, and sometimes that is exactly what it is. Peers are individuals who have similar experiences as oneself. For example, if you are stressed at school, and you talk to a classmate of yours about the stressors of school, that is peer support. Talking to someone who is or has gone through a similar experience can make an individual less nervous about being judged and can feel more understood. A study focusing on peer support in recovery from PTSD symptoms in veterans found that higher perceived peer support is associated with improvements in PTSD symptoms (Jain, McLean, Adler, & Rosen, 2016).
Furthermore, another study on the effectiveness of one-to-one peer support for individuals with severe mental illness found that participants who received one-to-one peer support rated their self-efficacy significantly higher (Mahlke, Priebe, Heumann, Daubmann, Wegscheider, & Bock, 2017). It is clear that peer support can have a positive impact on our mental health. It is also an alternative to other forms of support, and it helps the individual avoid just feeling like a mere patient.
However, it is important to note that not everyone may be suited to provide peer support. It requires someone who has similar experiences and also someone who is willing to listen and empathize. Also, it is important to note that peer support alone may not be the most effective option when tackling mental health concerns. However, having someone in your life who can relate to your life experiences and be emotionally available can have positive impacts on our mental well-being. When facing mental health issues, it is so common to get caught in thinking patterns where one feels like no one understands what they are going through. Feelings of isolation and loneliness start to creep in. Having someone to turn to who has been through or is going through the same situation can do wonders in reducing those feelings.
Jain, S., Mclean, C., Adler, E. P., & Rosen, C. S. (2016). Peer Support and Outcome for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a Residential Rehabilitation Program. Community Mental Health Journal, 52(8), 1089-1092
Mahlke, C., Priebe, S., Heumann, K., Daubmann, A., Wegscheider, K., & Bock, T. (2017). Effectiveness of one-to-one peer support for patients with severe mental illness – a randomised controlled trial. European Psychiatry, 42, 103-110.