“You Matter to Me”: 4 Reasons Why Peer Support Saves Lives
The person most likely to save your life from suicide is someone you already know. Sometimes it may be a family member or a supervisor. Often its a peer.
Peer support is an essential link in the chain of survival. There are many reasons for this:
Peers are willing to stay with us in our darkness when others are not. They let us know we are not alone.
Because of their shared group perspective, they have insights into recovery barriers, opportunities and cultural nuances others can’t see. No other agenda exists because the power balance is usually neutral.
Peer are usually people who have “walked in our shoes” emotionally. This bond of vulnerability leads them to be highly trusted. They have frequently lived through similar life challenges as others in their peer group and provide a hopeful example that things can change.
Because peers are around us more often than other relationships in our lives, they are often the first to know when things are not right.
Informal peer supporters are our confidants — our 3 O’Clock in the morning friends. We should all have a few of those on speed dial. Sometimes knowing someone would go out of there way to support us is enough to help us through a crisis. Sometimes, however, our friends don’t always know what to do.
Formal peer supporters or peer specialists are usually highly trained and supervised to be effective and confidential listeners and wellness partners. One of the core skills they are taught early on is how to be an active and empathic listener — a skill that many of us take for granted.
Having first-hand knowledge of crisis and mental health resources, formal peer specialists can become highly influential liaisons to professional care. Because they know that sometimes referrals don’t go according to plan, they are also key in follow up care as they continue to let people in crisis know they are not alone.
Here’s the kicker — helping others helps the peer supporter. Known as the “helper effect,” peers who support others tend to also make meaning out of their own hardship. In addition, they are more likely to stay accountable to their own well-being when they feel like they need to be the best models of resilience they can be in order to contribute most effectively to another’s healing.
For more about the transformative power of peer support listen to my podcast interview with Eduardo Vega: https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/hope-illuminated-podcast/9
Originally used in clinical settings, peer support is increasingly being deployed in schools, workplaces, veteran communities and more. If you are interested in starting a peer support program you can start by reviewing this toolkit developed by the Behavioral Health & Wellness Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus School of Medicine.
In closing, let me leave you with “some feels” about the power of peer support. This week I stumbled upon this very inspiring video by a high school student from Utah named Jordan James. His lyrics and video “U Matter” remind us how compassion can save lives:
"When you don't feel the love from no one else
And you don't feel the love from yourself
Reach out and you'll see
You matter to me..."