Peer Support is an important, but often misunderstood and executed concept.
We live in a reactive world – wait till there is a problem, then do something about it. This of course means problems tend to never really get solved as new problems arise in the middle of addressing old ones. This is without a doubt how most mental health and life related issues are dealt with. We do our best to keep problems in the dark until they manifest themselves publicly and we can’t hide them any longer. We lose our greatest opportunity to deal with them, as they developed.
Most mental health issues as most life issues, develop over time due to a whole host of reasons. The key to healthy living, to resiliency, to truly supporting others is by being PROACTIVE, not REACTIVE. You see, peer support is more about relationship development than crisis intervention. You want to help make someone stronger at work and at home. Make an investment in their lives and learn about their family, hobbies, health, faith, dreams, and everything else important to them. Your mission is to encourage healthy living, knowing your peer well enough to call them out on developing problems while building the trust that is needed to stop the development of issues before they impact work and personal life in irreversible ways.
We live in an increasingly isolated world. Social media increases loneliness and isolation as the quality of human interaction is replaced with an enormous quantity of screen time. This vulnerability is exacerbated by families and communities that continually break apart and move away. It is here in isolation, with no real social support, that the darkness grows and mental health and life issues overwhelm and expose our deepest fears and insecurities.
Regular, Mandatory, Accountable:
If your peer support program is not proactive you are just plugging holes in a dike. You are not changing lives and increasing resiliency. You must meet regularly, make it mandatory, and create accountability. These are the principles of peer support I teach to communities and organizations from education to law enforcement, from churches to recovery groups. It is the basis of my Ladder UPP life skills program.
Meet regularly, once a week to once a month, or more when needed. It can be more formal in a small group, or even better, informally at lunch, for coffee, running, etc. one on one with someone you build trust with over time.
Make it mandatory. Ideally, all organizations that utilize peer support make it mandatory. You can count on the fact that most of your people are isolated in some way. We must help them build trustworthy relationships before life begins to weaken them or worse. This is especially important in law enforcement, emergency medial services, the military, and other fields where exposure to trauma is a common occurrence.
Create accountability. Peer support should move people forward toward healthier lives – mentally, physically, and spiritually. To do this, there must be accountability. In addition to personal accountability, we need someone to help us create a life plan and then follow it. Whether it is working out, going to counseling, or getting back involved with church, you need someone to hold your feet to the fire as starting anything worthwhile means facing a little pain.
Start today by making a commitment to walk with someone else. Build a relationship. Focus on moving forward. It is by example that we lead others toward deep resiliency and effective peer support.
For more reading, here is a report from Science Daily on a study that showed peer support was more effective in treating depression than traditional care and just as effective as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).