“Have you been given information by NHS mental health services about getting support from people who have experience of the same mental health needs as you?”
This is one of the NEW questions in this years National NHS Community Mental Health Service User Survey. The focus is about people having been given information about getting what is termed ‘peer support’ – support from people who have lived experience of mental health issues. There is lots of information about peer support to be found on-line, for example – Together for Mental Wellbeing, Mental Health Foundation and Centre for Mental Health. And there is information about where you can access peer support locally, for example in York, or in Leeds.
This information being available to people in a number of ways is better – having a discussion about it, accessible leaflets etc. Better still is people routinely being supported by peer support workers. This is where the conversation moves away from vanilla:
- Access to peer support workers in mental health teams. Fab, but how do we ensure this is equitable, how does everyone get the chance of this? A referral system within a team can be helpful but can highlight some interesting things. Speaking with a peer support worker it became apparent that the same care coordinators refer for peer support work and the same ones don’t. There could be a number of explanations for this, and I am sure it couldn’t be that some care coordinators don’t value peer support work or working in a recovery/wellbeing orientated way, that they are not choosing whats best for someone rather than offering choice and are not inadvertently gatekeeping and creating power differentials. So we must look to alternative explanations.
- Could it be said that most people have some lived experience of mental health issues, through their own life experiences or through that of their family and friends? If so, then people are routinely being supported by peer support workers. Mission accomplished, box ticked. But this is not quite right, this is hitting the target but missing the point. It diminishes the experiences of people with mental health issues.
- Should recruitment to all posts actively encourage people with lived experience? Perhaps this is already happening but what about choice? Should people have to disclose their lived experience, and if they don’t will they be discriminated against in selection?
- Peer support on Social Media? – whatever next! An alien concept to some, but there is ever-growing peer support on social media channels. People regularly blog, Tweet and Facebook about what’s going on for them and its reciprocal. The support offered is pretty immense. It bypasses the ‘referral’ stage and is instant. A beginner’s guide to Twitter should help if you are working up to Tweeting.
- The influence of National Survey’s in changing practice. The benefits of using approaches that support recovery and wellbeing are well established and backed by research. The National Survey results will tell us what people accessing services are experiencing, are folk being given information about accessing peer support – or not. The question creates a standard and measure. The danger is of it providing a minimum standard, I would not want to see the current provision of ‘in-house’ peer support reduced based on a standard of providing information only.
People currently accessing mental health services are future peer support workers, the eco-system of peer support. Often people want to share what they have learned along the way, want to give something back, want to achieve their ambitions and goals. People understand that they have a unique view of living with mental health issues, that they are ‘experts by experience’ rather than an ‘expert by education’. Perhaps a blend of both is often where we find ourselves at?