What is peer support?
Peer support is when people use their own experiences to help each other. It is different from the specialist, tailored help you might receive from a GP, counsellor or therapist but can still be effective.
The aim of peer support is to:
- bring together people with shared experiences who can support each other
- provide a confidential space where you feel accepted and understood
- treat everyone's experiences as being equally important
- encourage both giving and receiving support.
With peer support, everyone's views and experiences are equally valued. No one is seen as being more of an expert than anyone else. It's not always about getting or giving advice. It is sometimes just about having a safe space to get things off our chest.
How peer support can help
Police peer supporters will have experience and knowledge of police work and culture, with lived experiences of dealing with a variety of life’s challenges. Lots of people find peer support improves their mental wellbeing and helps them cope. For example, it could:
- help you to open up about what you are feeling and experiencing
- introduce you to ideas and approaches that others have found helpful
- reassure you that you're not alone in how you are feeling
- help you to connect with others and give you a sense of belonging
- encourage you to value your strengths
- build your self-esteem and confidence
- help you to feel more hopeful about the future.
Is peer support right for me?
It’s completely normal to find it difficult to open up, and you may feel nervous about sharing your experiences with others. Peer Support can often be a helpful first step. Remember, the process of peer support is about speaking to someone with shared experiences, so the person you’re speaking to probably feels (or has felt) the same way you do.
You are in control of a peer support session, and it is entirely up to you how much you share – but before seeking peer support, you might want to think about whether it’s right for you and what you want to get from it.
Things to think about:
- Peer support is a confidential process and is based on everyone being treated with fairness, respect and understanding.
- Peer support can be a two-way process so it’s important to think carefully about how you’re feeling. Could it be difficult to hear about other people’s experiences? While it can be helpful to hear how other people have coped, there might be times when it’s triggering or upsetting for you.
- Remember that you'll be hearing people's personal experiences and strategies, and, that what worked for them, may not be right for you.
- How much support you give and receive can vary depending on what feels right for you at different times.
- Although many people find peer support helpful, not everyone does – and that’s ok!
- Some people find peer support useful at some times and not others. If you try it and it hasn't helped, that’s not your fault, it's important not to blame yourself.
- If it's not the right thing for you now, you will still be able to access it in the future if you want to.
Looking out for yourself
When taking part in peer support, it is important to think about how it might affect your wellbeing. This includes the parts of peer support which may be helpful for you, but also what you might find difficult. For example:
- Try to notice how you're feeling, as there might be times when you’re not up to it.
- You should feel free to share what you feel comfortable with, but it's worth thinking about how it makes you feel and how it might affect others.
- Remember to take time out if you need a break for any reason.
- Make sure you know how to get help in a crisis. For example, you can call Samaritans, SHOUT crisis line, 111 or your GP.
Seeking peer support
If you are interested in seeking peer support, contact your force wellbeing team who will be able to point you in the right direction – you’ll often find peer supporter or wellbeing team details on your intranet.
If your force doesn’t currently have a peer support team, they can get in touch with Oscar Kilo, the National Police Wellbeing Service and talk to someone about creating a peer support network in force.