From the moment I shared my first mental health doodle, peer support became a very real part of my well-being. First, it was on a small (but no less important) scale of friends and family getting in touch with kind words of encouragement and shared experience. From there it exploded until I was on the giving and receiving end of peer support on a scale I could never have begun to imagine, right up to running a 200-strong peer support group on Facebook which I am proud to say is overflowing with those elements of peer support that are most unique and valuable: empathy, community, hope, shared experiences (in the good and bad), friendship, advice, creativity, reassurance, company, safety, honesty, advice, respect, questions, kindness, unity…I really could go on and on.
I believe peer support is an incredibly undervalued and underused aspect of treating and living with mental illness – let’s face it, in any kind of adversity there really is nothing like finding someone who has been there and simply ‘gets it’ without agenda, bias, training or professional responsibilities/limitations. When you factor in things like the misunderstanding, inexplicability, confusion and shame that often comes with mental illness – as well as the way that it makes the most eloquent of beings lost for words and the terror that strikes many people to the ground upon being faced with a mental health professional – the power of peer support as part of a wider spectrum of support* is immeasurable.
So, please do reach out. You never have to go through this alone and the great thing about peer support is that you don’t even have to battle your illness to see people in person or speak over the phone, there’s a wealth of support online at the touch of a button, day or night.
I will leave you with these very wise words from Rachel Platten, which I feel sum up the very essence of peer support: “Hands, put your empty hands in mine…Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you!”
*I want to emphasise here that peer support is in no way a suitable replacement for professional help and I would encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to seek professional help as well as peer support – the two are very complementary and, in fact, many NHS Trusts now employ peer support workers as part of their community/inpatient teams.
If you’d like to join a peer support group of Facebook, I’m a little biased but I truly cannot think of a more wonderful community to start off with than The Doodle Chronicles Peer Support Group.