This is a small essay I wrote around the same time as the previous one. It’s just how I perceive Peer Support to be, and what it means to the lives of others. Enjoy.
TRAVELLING HOPEFULLY – PEER SUPPORT & WHAT IT MEANS
They say to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. Well arriving is also better, especially if it’s at the end of a long and difficult journey. Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. There then started a journey with many pitfalls, setbacks, challenges and above all, hope. I’ve met some great people along the way, all with the common bond of dealing with mental ill health. The bond has allowed me to develop my life in ways I didn’t think were possible in 2007.
In other words, the bond is called Peer Support. What is Peer Support? In my opinion, put simply, it’s the meeting of like minds and people with similar experiences to yourself that allows people the freedom to express themselves without fear of judgment, without fear of prejudice, or without fear of fear! Peer Support allows the “supporter” to draw on his/her experiences to allow the client to express, to show emotion and to share a story that may be painful. Also the Peer Support Worker (PSW) allows positivity, recalling good experiences to put to the client, always advising, but never preaching. Such expressions as “What are your strengths?” allows the client to think along good lines rather than focusing on what caused the problems in the first place.
I attend a monthly Peer Support meeting. The stories that I hear vary from person to person. Everybody is unique, and everybody is different. That’s why it’s important never to judge or be flippant about other people’s issues. Mental illness is one of the biggest scourges facing modern society and being negative and cold about it, is ill-advised and causes great strain on the PSW and the group/individual. Being kind, empathetic and with a good, listening ear are three very important interpersonal skills when dealing with clients. Put yourself in their shoes. Though you cannot help them in the sense of seeing counsellors and/or taking medication, those previously listed skills makes the client listened to, supported and welcomed; given a chance in life.
In this assignment, I shall attempt to cover all of the aspects of the peer support framework. What makes it work? What causes problems? What challenges are there? are three typical questions I shall be dealing with, amongst other things.
They say that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In mental health, that’s very often not the case. There are many obstacles preventing the client from navigating the line, often a circumnavigation has to be performed. It’s a bit like two steps forward and one back. The line is hardly ever straight. It’s squiggly and convoluted. You think you are recovered one minute, the next, you’re heading back downwards again. It’s never straightforward. But to the PSW, it’s about making the line as easy as possible to navigate for the client.
ROAD TO RECOVERY – THE PROS AND CONS
Recovery from any illness, mental or physical, is a long and arduous process and of course, has it’s pitfalls. As far as mental health is concerned, is any client completely recovered? Are they recovered enough so that their mental illness doesn’t return? Well, take it from me, it does return. So what can be done to prevent any recurrences?
Recovering means enjoying the things you used to do. When, for example, mental illness takes hold, enjoyment of activities decreases. Isolation is a major factor. The fun goes out of everything, because the brain is only focused on the illness. Getting back to enjoying things is a tough route, because it must be accomplished in small steps. For example, in my darkest hours, I found the comfort of staying in touch with a friend or family member. Now, I blog regularly about my illness, and expressing those thoughts electronically is of great benefit to me and to others in similar positions around the world. It gives me strength, but more importantly, gives others some insight into the daily struggles.
Having a peer network is key. I’m very fortunate in that I know people in a similar position to myself and the empathy and knowledge that comes forth from this network is again, a massive boon. Some others don’t have that opportunity to work with others or to empathise. This is where a PSW can be heavily involved with the client, putting their experience to good use to hopefully, achieve a positive outlook and look to attain some kind of social standing. It isn’t easy. What’s the saying, “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink it” comes to mind. It’s all about experience, empathy and determination to see others do well in life, to give them a leg up.