How can we find safe peer support as a carer?

Support for carers comes in many forms. Peer support in this context, is when carers support carers. At Mobilise, we host both daily cuppas and a busy online community, where carers support carers.

Illustration of a group call.

In fact, this week sees our 500th cuppa! A safe, online space where carers meet, make friends and support each other. We’re sharing what we’ve learnt about a successful cuppa.

Some useful tips on what to look out for, how a group should make us feel, how to keep ourselves safe and how it’s OK to keep looking if the first one isn’t for us.

What is peer support for carers?

Peer support is when others use their own experiences to support others in a similar situation. For those of us with an unpaid caring role this will involve getting support from other carers in some way.

When done well and when we take a moment to think about how we can get the most from it, peer support can be a valuable part of our wellbeing tool kit.

Peer support can be one to one or in groups, face to face or online. It is often linked to learning, fun or therapeutic activities.

Peer support is an important part of the Mobilise community. We have access to individual support calls with carers on our team, a Facebook community and cuppas. As we celebrate our 500th cuppa next week we’ve taken the opportunity to share tips on how we can all create or find a peer support group that works for us.

Choosing a carer peer support group that work for you

There are many peer support groups that we can access. For example your local Carers’ Centre is likely to host coffee mornings and many other events - both online or face-to-face.

Illustrations of friends socialising.

Before we jump in it can be helpful to ask ourselves:

1. What are we looking for?

For example, are we looking for fun, discussion, learning, empathy, friendship or connection? Or maybe we’re looking for mental health support and strategies, a break from caring - or a focus on caring! Do we want to make local friendships or remain anonymous?

Do we want a group where we can ‘offload’ or a group that is a good distraction from our current mental or physical load? These are just some considerations. Knowing this, will help us to choose the right kind of group for ourselves. It’s also OK to “not be sure what we want or need”. We can simply try a few - until we find somewhere that just clicks for us.

2. Are we looking for an online or face to face group?

This could depend on how comfortable we feel online or in person. It may depend on how easy it is for us to leave our home, or how much time we have available.

3. Is live group peer support the right thing for us?

By ‘live group peer support’ we mean something we all attend at a set time, together. Such as our cuppas or a coffee morning at your local Carers’ Centre.

For some of us, this just doesn’t work. Whether for social reasons, time, caring demands or our own health. The important thing to know is that we can still benefit from peer support in other ways.

Other types of peer support

1. Individual support calls

For example, if you book a support call with our team, you’ll be speaking with another unpaid carer. So you’ll be getting peer support on a 1:1 basis. This is the case with many local Carers’ Centres too.

2. Online communities

Such as our Facebook community for carers. There are tons of Facebook communities for carers. Some are condition specific, so we can share and get advice specific to the condition of the person we care for. Others are about the mental health of us as carers or for those of us caring for someone with a mental health condition. There are groups about equipment and mobility aids. And groups on accessible holidays and days out.

What does good carer peer support feel like?

Below is a selection of ‘feelings’ carers shared, that tell them they’re in the right group for them:

  • We feel welcomed and included by the facilitator or host and other group members.

  • We know a little bit about what to expect from the session and the experience matches this.

  • It feels easy to join, although the first couple of times we might be nervous or still getting used to the technology.

  • We feel safe and know that the conversation is confidential and we won’t be judged. There might even be house rules about this.

  • We leave feeling better than when we joined.

How can we each create a safe uplifting carer peer support group?

As attendees we contribute to the success of our peer support group. Here are a list of things we can keep in mind that help.

Illustration of four friends hanging out.

1. Listening to our peers

This is one of the most important things we can do. Often more important than sharing solutions or giving advice. Responding with a nod, smile or words of encouragement that shows they are heard is very powerful.

2. Contribute

Not everyone is talkative or feels confident to speak but sharing a little about what works for you, what you have learnt or experienced can be powerful.

3. It's OK to vent

The group can support us in all sorts of ways, if we would like advice or suggestions. And if we just want to vent, it’s OK to say that’s all we want to do. Sometimes we’re not in the mood for advice - Perhaps we just want to share what we are going through or work things out for ourselves.

4. Consider differences

Accept that people will have different beliefs, values and experiences. Disagreement and debate is rarely helpful.

5. Emotions will happen and that’s OK

No need to panic if we feel tearful or in a different mood to others in the group. If others are sharing how they feel, are upset, angry or excited, allow them space to share this too. We don’t need to soak up these feelings - they can be shared and left in the peer support time rather than being “taken home” with us.

6. Don't be afraid to leave when you need to

It’s OK to leave if we need to. It’s helpful to drop a message to the host, but often they will follow up with you afterwards too.

7. Choose a group that reflects what we are looking for

Not every group we come across will be the right group for us - don’t dismiss all peer support as being the same. It’s OK to go to a few, until we find somewhere we feel comfortable.

Top tips

  • Avoid offering advice unless it has been asked for - it can sometimes be helpful to more gently share what has worked for us.

  • If we don’t feel ok after a session we can reach out to the facilitator or host. We might find it helpful to book an individual support call.

  • If we are worried about someone in the group we can check in with the facilitator or host.

  • Make the right choices for us. We don’t have to stay in a group that isn’t right for us or it might be wise to take a pause from time to time.

  • We can try different things to find what works for us, we might want to try things a couple of times before we make a decision.

What's next?

You're always welcome to join our cuppas if you have not yet. Simply view our Cuppa Timetable which is updated weekly!

And don't forget to connect with thousands of unpaid carers already in our private Facebook community. Where carers ask the big questions and support one another in our caring roles.