During my undergraduate studies, I volunteered for the Peer Support centre on campus as a Peer Counsellor. After graduate school, I worked as Youth Engagement Project Coordinator on a project to create a peer-based mental health program for youth in the community.
Since then, peer support has became something I feel knowledgeable and very passionate about.
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What is youth peer support?
Peer support is a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. Key elements of peer support include recovery, empowerment, and hope.
Peer support is built on shared personal experience and empathy that focuses on the individual’s strengths to work towards their wellbeing and recovery. The peer support worker provides emotional and social support to others who share a common experience.
Peer-based mental health programs have been proven to help reduce the stigma of mental illness by promoting mental health awareness and making services more accessible to youth.
Example of youth peer support activities and responsibilities include:
- Providing one-on-one peer counselling at a drop-in centre,
- Facilitating peer support groups,
- Encouraging young people to engage in services (e.g. participate in meetings, ask questions about their treatment plans, advocate or themselves),
- Assisting youth in navigating services,
- Peer support workers sharing their personal story of recovery to inspire their peers, and
- Ensuring young people seeking services feel less outnumbered when they meet with adults about their mental health issues
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Why peer support?
Studies show that “youth are more likely to speak to friends, family members or other informal sources rather than to formal sources such as doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists about their mental health concerns.”
One of my favourite components of peer support is that it can be very informal, such as meeting for coffee regularly with your peers to chat about the challenges you are facing. This is known as self-help or peers support groups, which studies show can help young people improve their coping skills, increase self-efficacy and provide social support.
Peer support is an effective way to provide mental health support and promote mental wellness among young people. It can be utilized to streamline caseload of formal mental health services by providing informal support for young people.