The pandemic, the typhoons, varying family situations: those are just among the many happenings that could onload our mental baggage. Our personal circumstances, contexts and experiences often shape how we see the world. Some find these experiences more difficult, while others find ease in it.
The difference-maker, then, are the people that keep us company. They could be our references and counterweights to the perceptions we have. Likewise, they are able to reinforce, as well, the ideas that we hold close.
These people can be professionals, such as therapists, guidance counselors or mentors. Due to the aforementioned compounding possibilities, professionals can be scarce—much more the access to them. That is when people close to us could come into play. Friends, family, peers: those are just among the many people that could support us, one way or another.
In the mental health scene, this is formally called “Peer Support.”
Peer support is a peer-to-peer and peer-for-peer process, system and phenomenon of providing social and emotional help.
It is an active process of sharing, listening to, and understanding experiences. Although it is dependent on the presence of experiences, there is no need for these experiences to be the same, shared or to be of the same context. Peer support, precisely, is a process because the importance hinges on the active participation of the individuals that take part.
As a system, peer support is utilized as a technique to engage and equip individuals with personalized emotional support. This system, then, can be either formal or informal: The individuals, themselves, could organize the peer support process for short- and long-term employment.
Because peer support could be a process, a system, or even both, during the pandemic, it has emerged as an important phenomenon. The utilization of peer support for coping and socializing has alleviated the mental strain of the global pandemic to those that have partaken in the process.
So, what does it feel like to experience peer support?
Being Supported by Peers
Peer support aims to improve wellbeing and alleviate mental health problems. This does not mean that it could substitute for professional help, but works well in tandem with it.
Additionally, peer support could help individuals in the following regard:
- Developing self-development in terms of self-confidence, self-disclosure, openness and self-awareness.
- Introducing individuals to ideas and approaches that may be helpful.
- Providing reassurance that people are not alone.
- Helping connect with others.
Avenues for peer support has then emerged in the Philippines.
Types of Peer Support in the Philippines
Peer support is flexible. It could be categorized through the following differences: (1) common experiences, (2) individual needs, (3) activities, and (4) setup.
Typically mediated by a peer facilitator, peer support focused on common experiences makes use of a shared context or experience. The following organizations arrange regular peer support for varying concerns and needs:
- Alcoholics Anonymous Philippines, Al-Anon Meetings, Co-Dependents (CoDA) Meetings
- Narcotics Anonymous and S.E.L.F (Self Enhancement for Life Foundation)
- Philippine Cancer Society
- Pinoy Plus Association Inc. and Positive Action Foundation Philippines
This occurs when the peer supporter and the service user hold conversations to assess individual needs. The following organizations provide individual peer support through chat or call services:
- Philippine Mental Health Association
- In Touch Community Services Inc.
Peer support, typically, revolves around sharing and discussing experiences. There have been emerging groups that utilize activities as well to achieve social and emotional aid. The following activities could be utilized alongside discussions:
- Creative Arts
With the pandemic highlighting the newfound power of the online setup, apart from face-to-face access, a lot of organizations operate through web-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, or Discord, among others.
The question of setup also emphasizes the flexibility of peer support to be employed formally or informally.
Peer support could be done anywhere and by anyone! That is what Carl Rogers asserted in his coining of the term “Unconditional Positive Regard.” Humanistic psychologists defined this as “expressing empathy, support, and acceptance to someone, regardless of what they say or do.” Does that mean that you merely say, “You’re valid,” or “You’re enough,” to anything anyone says?
Of course not.
Unconditional Positive Regard also emphasizes the people-centric approach of psychology: that it looks for the good in any person. As such, any person, likewise, could see the good in others, despite setbacks or shortcomings. Most of all, it is a call to recognize the strengths of peers within experiences and contexts.
Peer support, quite simply, is the process, system, and phenomenon of being there for others. It entails being socially and emotionally available to share, to listen and to understand the experiences of others—with or without the necessity for a crisis, emotional ailment, or a call to action.
Disclaimer: The Initiative PH - Department of Mental Health is encouraging everyone to seek professional help if you must to cater your personal emotional needs. We are not health care professionals. What works for other people may not work for you. Kindly read this with a grain of salt and seek professional assistance if you must.
Suresh, R., Alam, A., & Karkossa, Z. (2021) Using peer support to strengthen mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: A review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.714181
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Davies, N. (2012, July 18). Exploring the Value of Peer Support for Mental Health. Psychiatry Advisor. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/general-psychiatry/exploring-the-value-of-peer-support-for-mental-health/
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