Peer support happens when people with similar experiences offer each other encouragement, resources, and support. It is a natural phenomenon and occurs in many different forms, in regards to many different life experiences. Peer support in the context of mental health has been described by Shery Mead in her article Defining Peer Support as:
“…a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility and mutual agreement of what is helpful. Peer support is not based on psychiatric models and diagnostic criteria. It is about understanding another’s situation empathically through the shared experience of emotional and psychological pain. This connection, or affiliation, is a deep, holistic understanding based on mutual experience where people are able to “be” with each other without the constraints of traditional (expert/patient) relationships. This allows members of the peer community to try out new behaviors with one another and move beyond previously held self-concepts built on disability, diagnosis and trauma worldview.”
Peer support is one person reaching out to another and saying, “I’ve felt that pain too. I’m here for you.” As individuals with similar life experiences come together, they can often build a rapport with each other on the basis of their shared understanding and develop a supportive, healing relationship. Of course, supportive relationships can and do happen between people without shared life experience. The personal sharing of experience is what makes peer support unique. That sharing allows people to learn from each other and creates hope. They can share skills they have learned for staying well. When individuals experiencing psychological pain, disempowerment, or hardships see another person who has also experienced that pain, disempowerment and hardship, but who has recovered, they may become hopeful that they, too, can recover.