Peer support is when people use their own experiences to help each other.
*Last updated: 16 February 2022
There are different types of peer support, but they all involve both giving and receiving support. This could be sharing knowledge or providing emotional support, social interaction or practical help, for example. Everyone’s experiences are treated as equally important and no-one is more of an expert than anyone else.
How much help you give and receive will depend on what feels right for you at different times.
Research shows that peer support can improve people’s wellbeing, meaning they have fewer hospital stays, larger support networks, and better self-esteem, confidence and social skills.
Different types of peer support
There are many different types of peer support. Some examples include:
- support groups or self-help groups. These are run by trained peers and focus on emotional support, sharing experiences, education and practical activities
- one-to-one support, sometimes called mentoring or befriending. You meet someone to talk about how you’re feeling or to set goals, for example
- online forums.
Peer support can take many forms. It may be for particular groups of people (with a specific health condition or from a certain ethnic group, for instance). It could be provided face-to-face, on the phone or online. It may be weekly, monthly, ongoing or for a limited time.
What can peer support help with?
Peer support programmes can help with various issues, including:
- bereavement / divorce
- relationship problems
- other mental health conditions.
How can I find peer support?
Some NHS services run peer support groups. Ask your GP or other healthcare professional about this.
Mental health groups
Many local Minds offer peer support. Visit their peer support directory to find out what’s available in your area.
Rethink has peer support groups run by volunteers who often have lived experience of mental illness. They can help you feel more confident, informed and in control of your life. Some meet for mutual support while others offer activities such as art or sport.
Together UK runs peer support groups. Contact your local one to find out if you need a referral or can self-refer.
Check your local library or community centre messageboard too - local groups may put flyers up there.
Peer support for specific groups of people
Some peer support services are aimed at people with mental health conditions or who are part of particular communities.
- Bipolar: Bipolar UK has support groups hosted by staff or volunteers who are affected by the condition.
- Carers: Carers UK has directory of local support groups. You can talk honestly to other carers and get tips on how to support someone and look after yourself.
- Depression: Peer Talk has a network of peer support groups for people who experience depression. If you prefer writing letters to joining a group or going online, Depression UK has a pen friends scheme.
- Hearing voices: the Hearing Voices Network has groups for people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual sensory experiences.
- LGBTIQ+: Stonewall has a list of local peer support groups, including those specifically about mental health.
Befriending Networks lists peer support groups for specific groups of people, including people from BAME communities, older people, disabled people, single parents and more.
Online support groups
Mind has an online community, Side By Side, where you can talk about your mental health and connect to other people who understand what you’re going through.
Togetherall is an online community for people with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. You may need an access code to register, or your local council or healthcare provider may have already signed up.
Is peer support right for me?
Before finding peer support, you might want to think about whether it’s right for you.
It’s normal to find it difficult to open up and you may feel nervous about sharing your experiences with others. Remember they probably feel or felt the same way you do. You can choose how much to share with them.
Think about how you’re feeling at the moment. Could it be difficult to hear about other people’s experiences? While it can be helpful to hear how other people have coped, there might be times when it’s triggering or upsetting for you.
Peer support is very different from the tailored help you might get from your GP or counsellor. Remember that you'll be hearing people's personal experiences and strategies, and that what worked for them may not be right for you.
Think about what you want to get from peer support. Different support groups will offer different things. So if you don’t want to sit and talk about how you’re feeling, try to find a group that offers an activity instead.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before joining. For example, you may want to know how the sessions are structured, what you might be asked to do, how many people attend, and who leads the group. You could ask if you can bring someone with you, particularly if you’re nervous about joining a group for the first time.
If peer support doesn’t work for you, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It might just not be the right support for you now. You could always try again in future or find a different type of support that helps you. Read our guide How to look after your mental health for ideas.