Research project involving Suffolk Mind finds ‘peer support’ can help recovery from mental illness

John Coad and Stuart Lucas at the Suffolk Mind Get Up and Grow allotment in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG

John Coad and Stuart Lucas at the Suffolk Mind Get Up and Grow allotment in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Leaning on people who have been through similar experiences can help combat poor mental health, a new study involving a Suffolk charity has found.

Suffolk Mind CEO Jon Neal presents research findings at Quay Place in Ipswich from the Side by Side

Suffolk Mind CEO Jon Neal presents research findings at Quay Place in Ipswich from the Side by Side project, looking at the benefits of peer support. Picture: SUFFOLK MIND - Credit: Archant

Suffolk Mind was awarded funding as part of national research project Side by Side to increase access to ‘peer support’ and to find out if it can actually benefit people struggling with their emotional wellbeing.

An event was held at Quay Place in Ipswich on Tuesday to present the findings, which have been described as “vital”.

Peer support can include one-to-one mentoring, online communities and social or self-help groups.

The research, which heard from more than 750 people across nine areas of England, found that taking part in these activities helps to improve people’s wellbeing and allows them to better manage their mental health problem. It also reduces other health care costs, such as the use of a hospital or GP surgery.

The project discovered that good peer support should be based on six core principles: experience in common, safety, choice and control, two-way interactions, human connection and freedom to be oneself.

One example of this in action in Suffolk is the Get Up and Grow initiative, which sees like-minded, mentally unwell people come together and work on an allotment. There are groups set up in Hadleigh, Haverhill, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Ipswich and Felixstowe.

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Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, said: “Sharing your experiences with someone who has been through the same thing can help lighten the load and meet important emotional needs for connection and community. This is true for people who are experiencing a mental health challenge, but it’s also the case for everyone.

“We all have mental health and can all look after it, which is why it is important to look at peer support as an option for both staying well and getting better or managing a mental health challenge.

“This new research shows that peer support works, it increases people’s sense of choice and hope, and improves people’s wellbeing. This is one option that can be offered to help people in their communities. Suffolk Mind believes that community-based peer support services should be offered alongside mental health services across England and Wales.”

National charity Mind has also launched an online resource called ‘making sense of peer support’, where people can find details about local groups; as well as a digital community, Elefriends, which offers a platform to share and talk about feelings.