Support for carers comes in many forms. Peer support in this context, is when carers support carers. When done well, peer support can be somewhere safe and supportive for us.
At Mobilise, we host both daily online cuppas, a safe online space where carers meet, make friends and support carers.
Through hosting over 500 online cuppas, here are some of the things we've learned about good peer support.
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 we, 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 also linked to learning, fun or therapeutic activities.
Choosing a carer peer support group that works for you
There are many peer support groups that we can access. For example, your local Carers’ Centre is likely to host free groups and activities - both online or face-to-face.
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 an activity 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. Speak to someone
Many organisations offer free support calls. The calls are usually with people with lived experience or years of experience in working with carers.
2. Online communities
You're always welcome to join our online community for unpaid carers. It's where carers come together to discuss their situation and share it with others who get it.
There are also tons of Facebook communities for carers. Some of which 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 or substance misuse. There are groups about equipment and mobility aids. And groups on accessible holidays and days out. Just use the Facebook search bar to see what's available.
What does good carer peer support feel like?
Below is a selection of ‘feelings’ carers shared, that tells 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?
No doubt you're already in a support group - whether that's formally or informally with friends or family. The trick is to be able to notice if the group is helpful to us or harmful.
Do we feel lifted and supported by the experience, or does it bring our mood down? Do we feel safe or sad? Energised or exhausted?
As a member ourselves, we also contribute to the success of our peer support group. Here is a list of things we can keep in mind that help.
1. Remember our role
If this is a good safe well-managed space there will be moderators, hosts or facilitators that are part of a bigger structure and will have good stewardship and safeguarding processes in place.
“I’m a friend not a fixer.”
2. Listen 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.
3. Know our boundaries
Have days or times where we switch off. Don’t engage or don’t turn up. The world will keep turning! Check the social media privacy settings and think about whether today is a good day for you to connect with people individually as opposed to in a group setting.
4. 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.
The difference between offloading and ranting
Getting things off our chest or “venting” can be helpful. But I love this piece of advice from Dr Brendan Kelly based on the Buddhist concept of ‘right speech'.
When expressing our emotions be sure to label them as feelings rather than facts. It can help to write down how we feel beforehand avoiding harsh words against others, only saying what is true, speaking in a way that promotes understanding, using a reasonable tone of voice and ensuring what we say is honest.
5. Consider differences
Accept that people will have different beliefs, values and experiences. Disagreement and debate is rarely helpful.
6. 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.
7. Don't be afraid to leave when you need to
If we're in a group session, 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.
8. 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.
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. 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.
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