A report from Scottish Recovery Network has shown how services have adapted to challenges presented by Covid-19
New research has outlined how peer support in Scotland has adapted to a digital world during Covid-19.
The Meaningful Connections report, published by the Scottish Recovery Network, is based on engagement with 170 different peer support services and 110 participants from across the country. It highlights the innovative and quick response of the third sector and grassroots initiatives in meeting the needs of people seeking mental health support at time when more traditional services are not always available.
It explores the benefits, as well as the challenges, of taking peer support into the digital space when maintaining connections and relationships is more important than ever.
Key learning from the research includes:
• The important role of the voluntary sector. As many services were stopping, the third sector and grassroots peer support groups were trying out new ways of working. 85% of remote peer support groups or services were provided by third sector organisations.
• Digital peer support works for a lot of people. 81% of participants told us that they had felt better after accessing digital peer support. Nine in ten providers (91%) and eight in ten participants (81%) agreed that providing peer support remotely is a flexible way to work. It also opened peer support to people who found it difficult to engage in more traditional forms of support.
• Flexibility was key to success. Providers of peer support adapted quickly. 43% of providers had set up remote peer support straight away and 90% within a month. The third sector were particularly responsive and adaptable compared to other sectors and providers who perhaps have less flexibility.
• The digital divide was a challenge. Lack of access to technology was cited as a barrier to engagement with remote peer support. 91% experienced at least one challenge and 71% said not everyone understood the technology. However, 71% found that everyone had the right technology.
• Peer support facilitators need support to make this approach work. Interviews with peer support providers highlighted that to ensure facilitators can confidently provide an excellent experience they need to be supported to develop appropriate skills around engaging with participants, managing difficult conversations, safeguarding, and using the technology.
Scottish Recovery Network's acting director, Louise Christie, said: “The ability of peer support to adapt and change during Covid-19 lockdown should be celebrated and built on. The Meaningful Connections research again shines a light on the essential role of the third sector in providing accessible mental health support that reflects the needs of the community.
“Digital is seen not as a replacement for face-to-face peer support but as an additional approach that can provide additional access, choice, and meaningful connections.”
A peer support provider commented: “The people that come responded really positively, they seem to appreciate it and feel that sense of connection with people. I had an assumption people weren't feeling as connected, but they said they had, and it had been good.”
A peer support participant said: “I could do it from home which was really convenient because I am a single parent on a low income and driving into town is a tenner in fuel.”