This week David Donaldson came to talk to us about PEER SUPPORT PLUS CIO, a charity which supports adults in Leeds with their mental health. David describes his role as ‘Peer-facilitator, Process and Systems, Treasurer and Trustee’.
Most of us are happy to talk openly about our physical health. We try to take care of our bodies and seek help when needed. It is otherwise with our minds, where until recently mental health was a topic that people shied away from. David told us that suicide, which often results from the ultimate loss of hope, meaning or purpose, is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. The NHS reported that of more than 5,000 people in England who end their lives by suicide each year, approximately 75% had not been in contact with mental health services in the year before their death. This must mean that many struggle with their feelings in silence and alone.
Yet mental ill health is common. It is estimated that each week, 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression.
David admits that for many years he was a compulsive over-achiever, working long hours and neglecting a healthy work life balance. It caught up with him. In retirement he slid into clinical depression. Turning to the NHS, he found that available treatments such as five hours of cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-depressant medication were ‘a sticking plaster and not a cure’. He self-discovered and got in touch with the charity Leeds Mind [ https://www.leedsmind.org.uk ] which ran a Peer Support Group. This proved a turning point for him.
At Leeds Mind, David joined a Peer Support group that shared their experiences and feelings. This was new to him. As David told us, in his former career as a project manager and accountant, he’d been managing up to 2,500 people in a multi-national company but had never talked about his feelings. He and his colleagues had insufficient knowledge and awareness of other people’s mental health struggles. They accepted that to talk about their own struggles would be considered a career-limiting weakness not a strength. At Leeds Mind, he discovered he was not alone; he listened, talked, went on courses and workshops, and after three years he became a peer group facilitator, running courses, rewriting them and creating and delivering new ones. He felt valued and was able to make a contribution, which helped with his recovery.
David went into detail as to how peer support groups work. Adults experiencing mental ill health meet in a confidential space with a trained Peer facilitator, sharing their experiences to help and support each other. This is a radical departure from established practice where a mental health professional would steer the group conversation. Peers sit together as equals, talking of their own experiences and feelings, in the process learning from each other, taking responsibility for themselves, the better to manage their mental health. They are all free to ask the group for help, when Peers will share their personal experiences and may ‘signpost’ to other services but never give advice. The ethos is kind and non-judgmental.
All participants are ‘peers’. Two trained Peer-facilitators manage group process, safety and logistics. A peer will share an experience, and then the facilitator may negotiate the focus of the sharing, establishing what might be helpful. The facilitator is a peer, with equal status.
A session lasts two hours, each with typically four rounds of ‘taking time’ and sharing. Facilitators concluding each two hour session by inviting peers to say what they are taking away. Peers are encouraged to progress their issues by seeking further rounds of support at future meetings but are never expected to report back.
Leeds Mind Peer Support Groups were funded by the NHS and Adult Social Care. The commissioners withdrew funding due to budget cuts, and in October 2019 Leeds Mind announced that open-ended Peer Support Groups would end, with support groups for new service users being limited to a maximum duration of 12 weeks.
The last open-ended Support Groups hosted by Leeds Mind were to be 31 March 2020. The peers responded by carrying on, forming themselves into a Community Group on 19 March 2020. Immediately hit by the restrictions of lockdown, they bought a Zoom licence, held their first Board of Trustees meeting and later the same day they facilitated their first ever Peer Support Group by Zoom. It worked well on Zoom, they kept going, and in August 2020 Peer Support Plus CIO was registered as a charity.
Trained peer volunteers now facilitate two weekly support groups, one in-person and another by Zoom. Participants self-refer, and participation is free. Importantly, it is open-ended, so that participants can keep attending sessions as long as they feel they are benefitting.
The new charity is run entirely by volunteers, at minimal cost. They deliver two, weekly, two-hour support sessions each session attended by up to ten peers. One group meets by Zoom, the other face to face. Since registration they have supported over 60 peers.
Earlier this year the Rotary Club of Roundhay donated £500 to the charity. David told us that proved sufficient to fund both of the weekly Groups for four months, and gave the Trustees breathing space to recruit and train more trustees, administrators and facilitators. Recruitment has now been achieved, and facilitator training is progressing. Trustees are aiming to open a third weekly Support Group during 2024/25.
David concluded by thanking the Club for our donation and continuing interest.
There is now a valuable directory of mental Health services in Leeds called MindWell Leeds https://www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk/
To learn more about David’s charity, visit https://www.peersupportplus.org/
There you will see from the volunteers this tribute:
Peer Support Plus Group Work really helped us successfully manage our mental health. We volunteer because we know from our own lived experiences that Peer Support works for us and we want to make it more widely available to help all adults in Leeds better manage their own mental health.
Get in touch with Roundhay Rotary Club:
0113 266 6203