Peer support has existed amongst people who use services for many years but grew in strength as an antidote to the mental health system which many had experienced as negative and restrictive.1 It has also become a lifeline for people from marginalised groups who have traditionally found it difficult to access mainstream services.

Peer supporters interviewed spoke specifically about their experience or fears of:

  • Resistance from staff wary of the autonomous, peer-led way of working.
  • The expectation to comply with staff policies and procedures such as control and restraint and risk assessments.
  • Being viewed as ‘cheap labour’ only there to assist professional staff.
  • Smaller, peer-led, community, peer support groups being subsumed by these newer formal models, especially as community support structures are already affected by cuts in public spending.

A member of a peer-led peer group, commenting on the challenges of undertaking the role of peer supporter in a formal setting said he found:

“Resistance from professionals to work in partnership, not having the same power, resources or influence of professionals and professionals trying to take over or thinking that we are their to assist them.”

The acknowledgement of the value and efficacy of peer support by the health system is to be welcomed and the report highlights many examples of positive collaborations within formal settings. However, the report argues that as peer support becomes more embedded as a model in mental health services, it is vital a framework is developed that supports its grassroots ethos and preserves its peer-led heritage.

These ’good practice’ guidelines, it contests, should also facilitate increased partnership work with local peer-led groups and ensure peer supporters have access to appropriate support, supervision and training.

Anne Beales, Director of Service User Involvement at Together said: “As a service user, having tried all different kinds of services, I can testify first hand as to the incontrovertible benefits of peer support.

Its introduction into formal mental health services could prove revolutionary but we need to find a way to preserve its autonomous and organic nature – the very values that deem it effective – even in an environment that follows a predominantly ‘medical model’ witih its strict policies and procedures”

To spearhead and facilitate this good practice work, Together has set up the ‘Peer led collaboration’, a membership group that brings together research bodies, peer-led groups and voluntary sector organisations committed to working in partnership to establish peer-led peer support as a leading force in mental health.

David Crepaz-Keay, Head of Patient and Public Involvement at the Mental Health Foundation who are a member of the Peer Led collaboration said:

“Peer support is far too important for it go the same way as recovery, which has become little more than an NHS slogan. People have been supporting themselves and each other for many years, peer support has developed both organically as part of the self-advocacy movement and in a more structured way as a part of focussed projects. This report gives a flavour of the breadth of peer support already happening and also some of the blocks and threats to its development.

By working in partnership, we can ensure that the future of peer support is safe, that it continues to mean something to the people who benefit from it and that when someone experiences peer support their life is better for it.”

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Robyn Clark, PR & Marketing officer at Together, Tel: 0207 780 7376 or 07734 870 065 or Email: robyn-clark@together-uk.org

1.     Mead, S. & MacNeil, C. (2005, May/June). Peer support : A systematic approach. Family Therapy Magazine, 4(5), 28-31.

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