~ Elisabeth Gulliver
Have you ever been to the dentist and heard the words ‘I’m afraid you need a filling?'
Unfortunately, I have. In the moments after being told the in’s and out’s of my upcoming procedure by the dentist, I immediately picked up the phone and called my Mum. Why? Well she’s had to endure one or two dental procedures in the past and I wanted to hear her experiences, as well as her advice on how to get through it.
Peer support, or in other words the help and support that people with lived experience are able to give to one another, is important, comforting, and encouraging. No matter what experience we extrapolate this to, be it a sky dive, a medical procedure, dealing with heartbreak or becoming a parent, I’m sure we would all agree that speaking to someone who has lived through a similar experience to us has enormous value and provides us with a deeper level of encouragement and support. Don’t get me wrong, professionals are important. The dentist fixed my tooth in a way that my mum couldn’t, but my mum gave me the encouragement and support I needed to get through the event.
Unsurprisingly we’ve found that when facing mental health problems, students are most likely to turn to their friends or peers for support with over 90% of students surveyed saying they would turn to their friends and over 80% saying they would access peer support (Student Minds research 2012). Not only can students access that deeper level of support from their peers, but they can talk to others without fear of judgement or ignorance, confident in the knowledge that others in the room have had similar experiences to themselves. There’s an informality and vulnerability to peer support which makes it an easier context to share personal stories and experiences. Another benefit of peer support is that it’s a two way process - it allows us to speak and listen, to give and take, to be the encourager and be encouraged.
Why peer support? Because peers are facing similar life challenges and stresses, because peers can offer insight and understanding that others may not have, because peer support makes us feel less alone and quite simply because talking changes lives.