Community Awareness Rallying to End Suicide
STRUGGLING TO COPE?
A MENTAL HEALTH PEER CAN HELP

September 10, 2018

Some people with mental health issues are turning to peers for support. Mental health peers provide interpersonal support and coping tips based on their own experiences recovering from mental illness or addiction. The resources they offer serve as a complement to--not a replacement for--mental health treatment. Since peers may have navigated similar challenges, they can lend empathy and insights that friends and family members may not be able to provide.

To find a mental health peer, experts recommend searching for support groups related to your mental health concern. In some cases, these groups might be easiest to find online. They also suggest choosing a mental health peer carefully, and setting clear boundaries and expectations. "With a mental health peer, you can finally feel like you have a partner joining you, on a difficult journey to recovery and managing your mental health," said Seneca Williams, a licensed mental health counselor. "It is a mutually beneficial partnership with someone who understands your language and wants to grow with you. A mental health peer is not licensed or credentialed provider of mental health treatment,” Williams clarifies, “and it’s important to note that such a person can’t replace a mental health professional. Instead, a mental health peer (or group of peers) is an additional resource for coping. Sometimes they can help in ways that therapists can’t.”

Here’s how to get started finding a mental health peer, and what to look out for in terms of red flags.

  • Do a keyword search. Search for the “keyword” around your problem or illness on Facebook, request to join a few closed groups, and once in, observe the behavior of its members before participating in a post or reaching out. In addition to Facebook, search WhatsApp chats and Meetup groups.
  • Beware the emotional vampire. Be careful with people who seem to use you to feed into their mental health dilemma, in a toxic or unproductive way, dumping their emotions or projecting their emotions on you.
  • Avoid fixers. Avoid interacting with people who appear to be ‘treating’ your mental health; only a licensed clinician can do this. They cannot diagnose you or tell you what to do for a particular diagnosis. They cannot give you advice on what substances or medications you should or should not take.
  • Set clear boundaries and expectations. Mental health peers are there to share their mental health experiences, tips, advice. They are there to listen and support, not fix or solve your problem. They are not required to always be available, they are voluntarily supporting. Set times to speak, and only share as much as you feel comfortable sharing.
  • Be open to the process. Most people in online supports groups are just like you: wanting connection, to feel heard, accepted and supported. With a mental health peer, you can finally feel like you have a partner joining you, on a difficult journey to recovery and managing your mental health. It is a mutually beneficial partnership with someone who understands your language and wants to grow with you.

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