Updated: Nov 25, 2020
The pandemic has brought mental health in Australia to the forefront of people’s minds. And, that’s a really good thing. There have been far too many avoidable tragedies happening behind the scenes for far too long. We lose, on average, eight Australians to suicide every day. Living with depression, with no reprieve, is equally unbearable for those who hang in there.
There are so many choices for getting help these days too. And, that’s another good thing. But, it can also be a bad thing.
How can choice be a bad thing? Generally, it’s not, when you’re feeling mentally fit. For those who are already feeling mentally taxed, it’s exhausting and it leads to bad decisions. Quite the opposite of being empowering, overchoice is diminishing according to The Paradox of Choice author, Barry Schwartz. At precisely the time in your life when you don’t even trust your own opinion, how are you supposed to find your own way out of the fog?
That’s a big reason why having the support of a peer is so incredibly valuable. Peer support isn’t about taking action to heal yourself. It’s about admitting you’re lost and extending your hand to someone who’s been lost before you and can show you a path out.
What is peer support?
Nikole (pictured left), one of the peer workers engaged to help people that come through new online application Peerhear, describes it as a service where “people are brought through their darkest days”. She adds, “It is possible. The peer support model really enables that.” In fact, a peer worker can be especially helpful when you feel, for whatever reason, that you can’t approach your family or friends.
How easy is it to book a meeting with a peer worker?
We’ve deliberately made it super easy through the app for you to see the faces of the people there to support you on the road back to being you. Because we know that taking that first step towards getting out of a rut can be confronting. “It shouldn’t be any more complicated than clicking on a button that says “find a time” says Peerhear founder, Peter Burge. One of the most destructive things that can happen to someone who’s finally made up their mind to look for help is to walk head first into a tangle of red tape.
No-one knows better than Peerhear peer worker Chelsea (pictured right) what it takes to make the first move towards getting help. “There's a certain level of anxiety that goes with making the first connection,” she says, speaking from experience; “It took me years to develop trust. Not only in health professionals but in people. So, I understand how anxiety-provoking that can be.”
She also happens to believe it’s among the best decisions you’ll ever make.
What is lived experience?
Have you ever tried to explain what depression feels like to someone who has absolutely no frame of reference? It can leave you feeling pretty misunderstood. Worse, questioning your own feelings! One of the big advantages of talking with a peer worker is that they can imagine how you feel. Because they’ve been there.
Chelsea describes her relationship with someone who fell into depression as the result of a medical procedure. “Our friendship deepened through my ability to understand the trauma she was going through,” she explains. “I was able to just simply be there for her. That’s due to my lived experience, because I really understand what she’s going through.”
Another of our peer workers, Fi, shares with us; “Everything I live with is a result of accumulated trauma starting from very, very young. Part of my lived experience is understanding the ways in which the mental health system can or can't help.”
Are peer workers professionally qualified?
Yes they are. Meet Solange (pictured left). She has a Bachelor of Psychological Science, a Graduate Diploma of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a Master of Counselling and Psychotherapy. She has attended professional development in Trauma Informed Care and Practice, Adapting Therapeutic Skills in Telehealth, and Mental Health First Aid Awareness.
Now, meet Solange again. She has experience of caring for someone with disability and chronic pain. She understands what it means to live with pain and to give yourself relentlessly to helping somebody in constant pain. She also happens to be into arts; “In my spare time I paint and draw” she says.
Which would you feel more inclined to open up to?
Yes, Peerhear does require peer workers to have a minimum of three years experience working in mental health in peer support, plus at least a Cert IV in Peer Work, Community Services, AOD or similar professional qualification. Even so, the most valuable thing they bring, by a country mile, is real lived experience with the mental health issues they advise on.
“I've learned from my training how to utilise that lived experience in clinical and non clinical settings,” says Fi.
Is peer support right for me?
If the thought of making an appointment with a doctor for a referral to a clinician feels off, for any number of reasons. But the thought of continuing in the same, seemingly-unbreakable cycle that you’re currently in can’t be your future, there’s a good chance peer support is right for you.
Whatever you choose, give yourself the gift of choosing. Whole new futures can be built on a single, simple decision.