The recent COVID-19 crisis has led to higher levels of stress, and anxiety and depression have also swiftly escalated. These increases have been compounded by COVID restrictions on accessing healthcare and people avoiding seeing a health professional for fear of contracting the virus. The need for support for those experiencing mental health issues has never been greater given current COVID-19 crisis. Finding ways to do this safely and effectively is key; and one of the best approaches includes peer support.
Patient networks within GAMIAN-Europe have been carrying out peer support training activities across Europe for decades. Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland and the UK, for example have both formal and informal training programmes, some of which are accredited. Many peer support activities have their own materials and resources to deliver peer support programmes. However, these networks are national, with little connection across borders. It was highlighted that some form of connection between peer support groups, especially at an international level is needed to share best practice, knowledge and methods for delivering peer support activities.
Peer support for people with mental health conditions has been shown to lead to a range of positive benefits including greater empowerment, hope, quality of life, self-esteem, social inclusion and better engagement with services. For people who become peer support workers the added benefits include increased skills and capacity building, employment and improved social networks. From a clinical perspective peer support is suggested to reduce the use of inpatient services.
The implementation of peer support is widespread among high-income countries, such as in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and other European countries including Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Slovenia. Projects vary widely, often facilitating recovery both for the peer worker and the person being supported. The Trialogue Movement in Austria and Germany initiated over a decade ago also promotes group communication (seminars or conversations) between people with psychosis, carers and mental health professionals to gain new insights and learn from each other while respecting each other’s expertise, which goes beyond traditional role stereotypes.
More recently, a peer support project, UPSIDES is being carried out in six countries (Germany, England, Uganda, Tanzania, Israel and India) and aims to strengthen mental systems by involving and empowering people with lived experience in services, with a focus on capacity building, developing culturally appropriate peer support and producing a manual and toolkit of their model. Such developments in peer support are important to disseminate with relevant stakeholders who might not otherwise have access to or be aware of these new models/practices.
Equally important is finding ways to build on existing practices, especially at a time of very high need. People with a pre-existing mental health condition are more at risk of relapsing in light of the fear and anxiety surrounding the Covid-19 epidemic and reduced available care.
The proposed project sets out to create a virtual resource centre of best practice peer support activities, methods and training programmes. A key purpose of this resource centre is to provide the opportunity and resources to develop and share experiences of peer support activities across EU countries.
The project has three key aims. These are to:
- Create a virtual resource centre;
- Identify and share best practice examples of peer support activities, methods and training programmes;
- Bring together peer support workers and other relevant stakeholders to develop and share existing practices through face-to-face and virtual workshops and webinars.
If you are interested in supporting and/ or knowing more about the project, please contact us at email@example.com