Talking with someone about your issues is never an easy thing. Often it can feel as though we are just passing the burden of our troubles on to others, but the truth is; silence is far more dangerous.
We talk with people all day, in our jobs, at home and with our friends, so why is it so hard to communicate our problems in person? If we feel anxious or uncomfortable about a certain topic, we instinctively avoid it, but that doesn't necessarily solve the problem. Other factors such as; status, self esteem, image and reputation can make us believe that being vulnerable is a sign of weakness.
While it may seem uncomfortable at first, it is essential to understand that communicating our problems is the first step in overcoming them. Talking to a parent, friend or therapist can be highly beneficial, however if you find face-to-face interaction to be intimidating, don’t be concerned, there are other options.
WHAT IS PEER TO PEER SUPPORT?
Peer-to-peer support is the thoughtful process that allows people to communicate, respond and lend emotional, social or practical advice to those in a similar situation. Doing this via an online forum allows the participants to retain a level of anonymity that can result in a far more harmonious and honest discussion.
The ability to share experiences, issues and possible strategies for success with people in similar circumstances has been proven to greatly improve the overall health and well-being of those involved.
According to information from the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, past recipients of peer-to-peer support services have experienced increased social networks and improved wellness.
Put simply, peer-to-peer is a support network based on experience and empathy. If you have a problem and are not sure how to overcome it, wouldn’t it be more reassuring to speak with someone who has gone through or is also going through a similar thing?
There is no doubt that mental illness is a cause for concern in this country. 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness this year, with the most common of those being depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder. Suicide is the leading cause of preventable death for people aged 25-44 and the second leading cause of preventable death for young people aged 15-24. Despite these alarming statistics however, Australians are still unwilling to seek help, but it’s not just a local issue.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only one third of about 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety disorders actually get help. Those that do however, see enormous personal growth. Talking about your problems and experiences can make you feel supported, understood and less alone.
While efforts have certainly been put in place to curb the stigma attached to mental illness, external factors such as gender, religion, family dynamic or political beliefs can make talking about this issue with friends and family extremely difficult. It is important to remember that while mental illness is widespread, not everyone is emotionally equipped to understand and empathise with someone going through mental health issues.
This is where peer-to-peer support is most useful. Speaking with someone, possibly a stranger that has shared similar experiences or external pressures can remove the fear of judgement and alleviate the stress of going through it alone.
The idea that a shared experience is easier to manage than an individual experience is one that makes a lot of sense. We empathise with those in familiar circumstances, and utilising our past behaviours and management strategies can help us to increase self-efficacy, improve self-reported health status and decrease morbidity.
Not everyone has the benefit of a support network around them and at times it can feel like you’re going through hard times alone, but there are options. Peer-to-peer support groups give you the chance to share experiences, concerns and solutions in a friendly, non-confrontational manner. Next time you find yourself with nowhere to turn, just remember that whatever the issue, there is always someone in the same boat.