There is no one, universally accepted definition of peer support. Sherry Mead offers the following:
"Peer support is a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. Peer support is not based on psychiatric models and diagnostic criteria. It is about understanding another’s situation empathically through the shared experience of emotional and psychological pain. When people find affiliation with others they feel are 'like' them, they feel a connection. This connection, or affiliation, is a deep, holistic understanding based on mutual experience where people are able to 'be' with each other without the constraints of traditional (expert/patient) relationships." (Mead, 2001)
A Charter of Peer Support was developed by people with mental health issues and families/carers with the support of the Mutual Support and Self Help Consortium in 2011.
Informal peer support has always been provided by friends, family and peers. Formal peer support services have been provided by grassroots community organisations and groups in Victoria for more than 30 years. Over the last 10 years, however, the sharing of lived experience has been increasingly recognised as an integral, complementary part of the recovery journey in mental health. Formal recognition has led to increasing numbers of paid peer support roles and a diverse range of terminology, services, activities, practices, protocols, research and resources. These have been developed by individuals, community and special interest groups, health professionals, government departments and support agencies, all aiming to harness the power of peer support for consumers of mental health services and their families/carers.
Peer support can be provided in a range of ways:
- One-on-one or in a group
- By volunteers or paid employees
- Peer-led or facilitated by a health professional (for example, a psychologist or psychotherapist)
- In person, on the phone or via the internet
- Through workshops or social activities
- In ad hoc or ongoing formats
Each model or variation has merit and can be appropriate for different individuals and at different stages of the recovery process. The Mutual Support and Self Help Consortium led by ARAFEMI are committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise with other organisations who utilise peer support or the sharing of lived experience as part of the recovery process, through the Centre for Excellence in Peer Support.