In this guest blog, Aisling Duffy from service provider Certitude highlights the role that peer mentors with lived experience can play in helping other experiencing similar issues:
As its Carer’s Week I thought it was a good opportunity to highlight the growing role for carers who have lived experience. This idea - that people who have been through an experience are in a unique position to advise and support others going through the same thing – is central to a co-produced service Certitude runs in Lambeth called Solidarity in Crisis.
This out-of-hours, phone and outreach service for people experiencing a mental health crisis is lead by peer mentors with direct knowledge of mental health issues. Research by Ellis and Lewes (1997) found that 50% of crises happen outside of normal community mental health team opening hours so this service, which operates over the weekend, offers support and advice at a critical time.
Just over a year ago, when Certitude established the service, we set out to offer a holistic approach that was active but non-judgemental with peer mentors who could listen and advise with real empathy.
Peer mentoring presents unique challenges; we had to be careful to recruit people who could cope with the mental stresses of the role as well as the pressures of regular employment. And it was important that we found people who were strong enough to care for others without their compassion having a negative impact on their own recovery. Thorough training was crucial and, as well as a mental health first aid course, we are particularly grateful to Dr Tamara Russell who delivered a two-day training session entitled Maintaining Mindfulness in a Crisis, which has been invaluable to our peer mentors.
People call Solidarity in a Crisis for a myriad of reasons, but what many have in common is the feeling of impending doom as the weekend approaches. They might be feeling suicidal, isolated and lonely; many have lost their friends or family in a bereavement or as a result of the stigma surrounding their mental health diagnosis. What most callers have in common is that they just want to be listened to or to have someone to talk to, or need someone to guide them to a safe place where they can approach their crisis in a different way.
The response to Solidarity in Crisis from individuals being supported, as well as mental health professionals and other carers, has been extremely positive. Time and time again we hear that people feel “listened to” for the first time in their lives because the person they are talking to has first-hand experience of their kind of problems.
I am a whole-hearted supporter of carers whatever their background; professionals, volunteers, families. However, the success of our carers at Solidarity in Crisis seems to suggest that sometimes there is no substitute for experience.
Ellis D & Lewes S (1997) Urgent psychiatric assessment in an inner city A&E department. Psychiatric Bulletin 21 625.
Aisling Duffy is chief Executive of Certitude. Certitude provides services and support to people with mental health needs and learning disabilities in many boroughs across Greater London.