A helping hand: taking peer support into the 21st century

FAULKNER Alison, BASSET Thurstine
Journal article citation:
Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 16(1), 2012, pp.41-47.

Peer support or mutual support has a long history in mental health. Recent developments mean that peer support, which originated informally through participation in service user groups, has become incorporated into statutory services through the use of employed intentional support roles. The purpose of this paper is to explore service user perspectives on peer support, particularly looking at the benefits and pitfalls of these developments. The paper is informed by a literature review, and by a series of consultations with 5 service user and peer support groups. The findings suggest that there are many benefits to service users from engaging in peer support, including: shared identity; development and sharing of skills; increased confidence; improved mental health and wellbeing; and the potential for challenging stigma and discrimination. Most of the challenges were associated with intentional support, including: role conflict; setting boundaries; and ensuring adequate training and support. A key theme that divided opinion was the degree to which peer support should be ‘professionalised’ as part of statutory services. The findings suggest that it is vital to acknowledge the different views about payment, equality and professionalisation arising in different service user and voluntary sector groups. The paper concludes that peer support arose from people wanting to create their own support networks, and that any plans to formalise it needs to acknowledge that pre-existing grassroots expertise.

Subject terms:
peer support, mental health problems, mental health services, peer groups, support groups, user views;
Content type:
Journal home page
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