Family Guide to Mental Health

family peer support

Family to Family Peer Support-
a pillar of recovery

Dr. David Goldbloom, Chair, Mental Health Commission of Canada
“Together Against Stigma”, Press Conference, Ottawa, June 2012

“Families need the opportunity to get support from other families – to learn from the experience of other families who have had to deal with a family member who has faced their own struggles. There is a huge amount to be learned from other families as well as a huge amount of support that people can get – from other families, from that shared experience.”

Mental illness is a complex phenomenon and the needs of millions of individuals from families across regions, provinces or countries, of different ages, cultures and relationships cannot be sculpted down to a few simple solutions that fit all. But there are a few basic resources that help family members face common problems and challenges:

• Families need access to a wide range of information, care and resources
• Families need information and perspective on the challenges of being a family member      within a family facing a mental health condition
• Families need external connection to keep from isolating or succumbing to stigma
• Families need support, encouragement and hope – personally and collectively
• Families can benefit from other families who have made the journey, who can act as      peers and role models

Regardless of the specific tactic, the solution is enhanced with Peer Support for Families.

The established health care systems in most regions predominantly institute care for those with mental illness focused on the bio-medical, and psychological models. In terms of accessing & creating resources for families and family members, a broader and often more effective solution includes Family Peer Support.

The Science Behind Peer Support

Growing evidence reinforces peer support as a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care:

“Overall, studies have found that social support, a broader definition of peer support, decreases morbidity and mortality rates, reduces health care service use, increases life expectancy, self-efficacy, knowledge of a disease or conditions and self-reported health status and better self-care skills. Additionally, providers of social support report less depression, heightened self-esteem and self-efficacy, and improved quality of life.

In particular, peer support can link people who share knowledge and experience that others, including many health workers, do not have.”

SOURCE: Peers for Progress –
A Program of the American Academy of Family Physicians
University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Supported by the Eli Lilly Foundation.

“After years of listening to consumers speak about how self-help groups have helped them, professionals have also recognized the effectiveness of self-help groups. In a landmark report on mental health issued by the US Surgeon General, the evidence for peer support was summarized this way:

‘As the number and variety of self-help groups has grown, so too has social science research on their benefit. In general, participation has been found to lessen feelings of isolation, increase practical knowledge, and sustained coping efforts.’

The 2006 report of the Canadian Standing Senate Committee “Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services”, identifies the importance of shifting the orientation of the system from one centered around service providers – to one centered around patients and families.

Key to this is the adoption of a recovery value to mental health supports and services. The report identifies the value of peer support organizations in bringing hope and recovery to people living with a mental illness and their families.

The report acknowledges that this is a new area of research and findings are still emerging. There appears to be an increasing appreciation for the value of peer support on the national horizon. Support for this comes from national policies in the UK, the US and Australia.”

Source: CMHA BC DIVISION – 2007 “Environmental Scan on Youth & Family Peer Support”

The practice, review and dissemination of PEER SUPPORT as an evidence-based practice has now been active for decades.

“People have always engaged in mutual support to deal with life’s difficulties within their families and local communities. But the idea that people from disparate families and communities who share a life experience can support each other is a more recent phenomenon. These multiple communities have taken on a new dimension with the development of online communities.

Values of peer support:

  • “In three words peer support is: humanize, de-pathologize and socialize.”
  • “Peer support is about providing all the tools besides medication: tools for the other 80% of your life.”
  • “Peer support initiatives apply values that differ from those applied in mainstream services.
  • These values revolve around three themes; self-determination; equality, mutuality, empathy, recovery & hope.”

Source: “Making the Case for Peer Support”

There is a movement in progressive regions around the world to manage mental health in their communities by including FAMILY PEER SUPPORT as a core tool to build support and recovery for the family as a whole, and address the needs of each member. This is becoming a more common resource in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US – where specialized services are now being delivered to great effect.

As family members, we KNOW the true value of peer support.  It is time for government, medical institutions and funding bodies to more fully understand and acknowledge that value. It is not only anecdotal, it delivers true results for families and individuals that cascades into quicker recovery, lowered draw on medical services, quicker recapture of lost productivity and massive cost savings in health care costs. Just as importantly, it improves quality of life.

We have prepared a global scan of research, running programs and best practices in Family to Family Peer Support (F2F) in mental health recovery for your further review.

To read our review of Family to Family Peer Support, please click on this PDF viewer.