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Debbi Fraser a Peer2Peer graduate tells us what peer support means to her.

*Please note this blog references suicide.

If I was asked to sum up the phrase ‘peer support’ in a sentence it would probably be ‘professional support from someone without a professional qualification’.

We are taught throughout life to listen to and trust the professionals and for the most part, that can be good advice. However I’m sure most of us can recall a time in life when we have been given advice from a professional with no actual life experience of the situation we are living through. And that is where peer support stands alone. When you talk to someone with lived experience, you know that when they say they understand how you are feeling that they do. You know that they have also probably lived through and more importantly recovered from something very similar. And that knowledge they have gained through their own lived experience, becomes more valuable in aiding someone’s recovery than any degree or qualification.

The first glimmers of hope

Having lived with and struggled with my own mental health issues of varying degrees since the age of 19, I had lost hope of ever feeling different than the way my mental health made me feel. It became the norm for me and doctors seemed quite happy to just prescribe me anti-depressant medication. It wasn’t until after a suicide attempt in 2019 aged 44, that I actually started getting the help I really needed.

I finally had a diagnosis of PTSD, borderline personality disorder and anxiety. And whilst at first this all felt like a death sentence to me, it gave me the first glimmers of hope, through support groups with other people who had similar lived experiences. These people have become valued friends to me and whilst I’m well on the way on my own recovery journey, just knowing they are there for me and understand means everything. Now, even on the days when I ride my emotional rollercoaster, the dips are never as fast or as scary and they don’t take me all the way back to the bottom, so I never have as big a climb to get back to where I need to be.

Discovering peer support

Discovering peer support and graduating as a peer supporter in 2022 is something my 20yr old self or even my 30yr old self would never have believed was possible for ‘someone like me’. For so long I allowed my past to define who I was. I allowed myself to believe I was too broken to ever be fixed and that I was too damaged to ever be any good to anyone. Everything in my future felt very negative and dark.

Peer support has allowed me to completely change my mindset. Now I see that everything I have been through and recovered from has made me the person I am today. My mental health no longer defines me or holds me back, instead I am using it to drive me forward, knowing I am now in a position to use my lived experiences and offer support to someone who might be a few steps behind me on their journey or even too scared to start it.

A 3-legged race

If I was to liken it to a race it wouldn’t be the obvious hurdle race or even a long-distance race. It would be the 3-legged race. You go into it knowing it might be a little more difficult and that it is going to require some planning and the ability to work alongside someone, but you have the knowledge that there will be someone by your side the whole time, an arm around your shoulder, encouraging you to get back up no matter how many times you fall down. They want you to cross that finish line and with their support it will get closer ever step you take together.

We all have struggles and fears in life and at times a lack of self-belief but with peer support we can allow ourselves to have strength, courage, values, determination and a belief in who we can be collectively. It’s about finding our own personal growth and learning to accept who we are whilst being encouraged by other likeminded people who will accept you, support you, without discrimination and help you start your own journey. And you have the comfort of knowing they once stood in shoes similar to yours.

-Debbi

Peer support was one of the main things that helped me out of this very...

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