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Peer support – a beacon of hope in a time of crisis 

This opinion piece is 9 months old
 

Hannah Kane, projects coordinator with Scottish Recovery Network, tells us about the Creating Hope with Peer Support partnership project and why community-based peer support needs to be a key part of the action

This Sunday is World Suicide Prevention Day. The ask from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that we "create hope through action".

Hope is central to the peer relationship. Peer supporters not only inspire hope by being evidence of the reality of recovery but can hold hope for people when they are at their lowest.

For a long time, people with lived experience of suicidal thoughts and those affected by suicide have been calling for easier access to peer support.

Through the Creating Hope with Peer Support project, we’re exploring what peer support offers people affected by suicide. With a focus on the power of lived experience to affect positive change, the project is working with a wide range of partners, including local suicide prevention groups and services, to boost peer support groups in communities across the country. Using a collaborative approach, the project is helping to build capacity so that people and families affected by suicide can receive help at the earliest opportunity. 

The Power of Peer Support 

People involved in the Creating Hope with Peer Support project tell us repeatedly that peer support has so much to offer. Peer support provides space, compassion and hope for people in crisis and also for those affected by suicide. Connecting with others with similar experiences provides a place where people can share, be listened to and heard. It helps people to see that they are not alone. This mutual sharing is powerful in that we can be supported while also supporting others on their journey. 

“As people we are programmed to be very active socially so when people become isolated it can have a massive effect on them mentally very quickly, peer support allows people the tools and info on how to share their own life experiences to others to show them that they are not alone and that they can recover from that feeling of loneliness. 

“We use our free football sessions as it gives people the feeling that they are a team. it’s always been a very beneficial tool that we have used from the very start to let people know we are all in it together and also provides that social side that is very key.” Ally – Kick Mental Health 

Peer support breaks the profound sense of isolation that comes with suicidal crisis. People often feel misunderstood or afraid to burden their loved ones. Peer support breaks this isolation by being with people and listening to their thoughts, fears and emotions without judgement. Knowing that others listening have been there and emerged, often feeling stronger, can instil a glimmer of hope in the darkest moments. Being with and walking alongside people means that they know they are not alone.  

Someone recently said to me that peer support was a “beacon of hope in a time of crisis”. When someone is on the brink of suicide the presence of a caring peer can make all the difference. Having a compassionate and understanding listener can provide a moment of pause, allowing the person to reconsider their options. Peers focus on offering support rather than rescuing or problem solving but in supporting can share insight and strategies that have worked for them and others in similar situations. 

Peer support also addresses the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. Knowing that the person or people you are speaking with have had similar experiences helps people to open up without fear of being labelled or stigmatised. This can encourage more people to seek help early, preventing crises from escalating.  

It's year one of the Creating Hope with Peer Support three-year project and the potential significant impact of peer support in suicide prevention is crystal clear. 

We hope you will get involved as we will continue to bring people together to "create hope through action." As we champion and embrace peer support as a dynamic and powerful tool that needs recognition and investment. An accessible and immediate approach to support that creates hope and saves lives. 

Booking is open for Creating Hope with Peer Support: The Power of Lived Experience networking day on 24 October. Find out about more opportunities at www.scottishrecovery.net  

Creating Hope with Peer Support is a three-year action plan funded by the Scottish Government as part of the Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan Creating Hope Together 

Hannah Kane is projects coordinator with Scottish Recovery Network.