'Peer support' - the research behind our approach
At the Big Feels Club, we're all about creating spaces for people to explore their big feelings, in the company of fellow travellers.
We didn't invent this idea. In the mental health world, this is called 'peer support', and it has an emerging evidence base showing its value. Peer support has been part of the mental health system for a couple of decades, but only in the past decade has it been formalised in mainstream settings, and thoroughly researched. So far the research suggests:
Peer support is at least as effective as more traditional modes of mental health support - helping to improve self-esteem, provide hope, enhance people's ability to get what they want from life, enhance social networks, and decrease shame and stigma.
Peer support is great value for money - the financial benefits often exceed the costs (often substantially) because of reduced hospital admissions.
Peer support can encompass a range of settings - including formalised one-on-one support with a paid peer support worker, or simply informal contact with other people who've had similar experiences to you.
Peer education (people with their own big feelings sharing what works for them) is another fast growing aspect of peer support, via models such as recovery colleges. Graham helped lead the establishment of Australia's first (and largest) recovery college.
We are currently working on the first formal evaluation of Big Feels Club's outcomes, via a partnership with headspace and Victorian state government.
Our credentials in this space
Graham and Honor have been involved in the setup and evaluation of a number of peer support services across Australia and New Zealand. In addition to multiple evaluations of peer services, Graham has published on the efficacy and best practice of peer support, including:
- Uses and Abuses of Recovery – Implementing recovery-oriented practices in mental health systems (2014). Slade, Amering, Farkas, Hamilton, O’Hagan, Panther, Perkins, Shepherd, Tse, and Whitley.
- Establishing an effective peer workforce: A literature review (2014). Bell, Panther, and Pollock.
- Peer Support Themes: Synthesis Report (2014). King and Panther.
Despite the encouraging research results, peer support remains hard to access in most places. It's often the last thing people are offered - after going through all the other more traditional mental health offerings.
We offer people spaces where they can access informal peer support and peer education, but we're only one small part of this puzzle. We strongly advocate for formal peer support to be much more widely available (and this is a key theme of our consulting work in the sector.)