Peer Support – Part 1 – Basics

There have been questions from multiple sources about recommendations about use of peers in suicide prevention that are included in The Way Forward, released by the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This sparked the series of posts that will present my perspective on the topic.

To begin, it seemed right to begin with some basics about what I’m referring to by “peer supports.”

What is a peer?

A peer is someone who has a similar mental health condition or experience (i.e., suicidal feelings or past suicide attempt).

What is peer support?

“Peer support is social or emotional support, frequently coupled with instrumental support, that is mutually offered or provided by persons having a mental health condition to others sharing a similar mental health condition to bring about a desired social or personal change” (Solomon, 2004).

Peer support includes mutual help groups, warm lines for support over the telephone, internet support groups for online support, and mental health services delivered by peers.

As noted in The Way Forward:

peers work in many types of programs (e.g., professional therapists, crisis workers, emergency department doctors). However, the approach described here specifically relates to areas where having lived experience is an essential part of the job and is included in the qualifications or description of the job.

This is only a brief introduction to the topic, with the next post discussing some of the long history behind the use of peer support in related contexts.