For more than two years now, Together for Mental Wellbeing has been providing peer support to people living with mental distress who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Christine Pearson is a Peer Support Coordinator in Together’s criminal justice team, and we caught up with her to find out more about why the support of someone with lived experience of mental distress can be so helpful:
1. What would you say are the benefits of peer support for people living with mental distress who come into contact with the criminal justice system?
The benefits are many and varied. We find people feel more confident and are more able to manage their own mental health and wellbeing with peer support and it helps people to have more control of their lives and helps them to identify their strengths and potential.
People feel more inspired and empowered by listening to the lived experiences of peer supporters, and accepted for who they are so they can be themselves without the fear of being judged. There is also a hopefulness, as peer support helps people to feel hopeful about the future.
2. How would you say peer support differs from other kinds of support available to people?
Peer Support in the criminal justice system is different to other services because it means being supported by someone with lived experience similar to yourself. This can be of immense value. They offer that as people of equal value, and use techniques and tools for peer support they have acquired during their own personal journeys and through training.
This kind of peer support is more than ‘being involved’. It is about actively supporting each other in a particular way. Peer support provides something very unique, as opposed to other treatments or therapy, and that is a real sense of self and control.
3. How would you say that peer support can contribute to a multi-agency support network for people?
When a person is experiencing mental distress and comes into contact with the criminal justice system, they can be seen by a lot of people from various teams including probation services, social care safeguarding teams, health care professionals and charities.
When people are in those situations they can often feel very anxious and worried and, as a result, find the approach of social or healthcare professionals overly clinical. They may also be wary of trusting people in those professional roles or be concerned about how they will be perceived.
In this situation being able to speak to someone who has lived experience of a similar situation can be a really big help in encouraging people to be open and honest with different services, so they can access the appropriate support from the different agencies involved.
4. How do you feel becoming a Peer Support Coordinator yourself has impacted on your own mental wellbeing and in terms of how you have developed in your career?
Becoming a Peer Support Coordinator has certainly empowered me and given me a great boost of self confidence. It has helped me to realise my strengths and potential. This has certainly had a positive impact on my own wellbeing, as I have come to realise that the support that I give is reciprocal and that helps me to focus.
I have developed my career from being a service user myself and I believe that this puts me in the unique position of actually understanding both peer supporters and peer supportees. I believe that I am a visible sign of hope for others, and hope that others will be inspired and empowered and realise that they can reach their own potentials too!
5. Do you think there are particular things that professionals that look to support people experiencing mental distress in criminal justice settings could learn from peer supporters?
There are a lot of things that professional could learn from peer supporters. The main thing is that Peer Supporters are experts by experience and their opinions should be valued by any organisation.
Christine explains more about the value of peer support in this video.
Read more about peer support and service user involvement at Together.
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