- Running a training day for volunteers working on a new online peer support service for APP
APP has been funded to provide peer support to women with postpartum psychosis and their partners. They have been running an online forum for over a year and are now looking to expand their offering to one to one email peer support. Women with lived experience of PP will be trained to offer email support to women who are in the early stages of recovery.
One of the real benefits of online peer support is the fact that people are able to find, connect and talk to people with experiences similar to theirs from all over the country, or indeed the world. It’s reassuring to find out you are not alone and helpful to hear how others coped in similar situations.
This is particularly relevant with postpartum psychosis. Many women may not know anyone else in their area that has experienced it. Often, even if there were someone, that person may not feel comfortable talking openly about it. This service will enable women to find support and reassurance from someone who knows what they are going through.
It also sounds as though many men whose partners get PP have no idea where to turn. They often try and support their partner in hospital alongside holding down their job and caring for other children. They often feel they need to be the ‘strong’ one – and disregard their own emotional needs. While the one to one support is not yet available to them; partners looking for support regularly use the forum.
Like the Elefriends mental health community meet up, there was a lot of peer support in the training room. Unlike the Elefriends meet up, many of these women had never met someone who had experienced PP face to face before. This gave the whole day a really moving and inspirational feel.
In the morning we heard from Professor Ian Jones who gave us some more facts and information and helped volunteers to understand a little more about the research and understanding of the illness so far. While the volunteers would not be expected to give expert support, this session would give them a broader overview beyond their specific experience.
In the afternoon I led a session on online peer support in more detail. We explored the needs of the women using the service and the nature of the support they would be looking for. We looked at what skills volunteers would need when offering support online and discussed whether this would differ from giving offline support.
Unlike other one to one support services I have worked on, PP ask their volunteers to refer to their own experiences within the emails. We discussed how it was important to ensure you are referring to your own experience for the benefit of the woman you are supporting only -perhaps to offer her reassurance and build her trust.
One woman spoke about peer support she had received in the past. In this case, she had sometimes been made to feel worse. The woman supporting her had recovered much quicker and had spoken about this in detail. This made our volunteer feel more hopeless – as though her experience of ongoing depression beyond PP was atypical. We talked about the need to be aware that while the woman you are supporting will have some similar experiences, some will be very different. Volunteers need to support the woman to make her own decisions and work out what steps are right for her. And while doing this they need to offer an ongoing foundation of reassurance and care.
We did some activities around ways to offer emotional support online and what kind of suggestions and ideas you might give. For me, a key element was giving the volunteers confidence. They were not being trained to offer expert support and needed to find their own voice. I didn’t want to give them hundreds of things to think about and leave them feeling unable to start typing. I kept the session very relaxed, with lots of the suggestions and ideas coming from the participants themselves.
We finished with a session on looking after yourself while volunteering. Self-care is particularly vital for volunteers working online, often away from an office space. The volunteers will be working from home, responding to emails that could be distressing and difficult. We talked about techniques for preparing for a shift and for debriefing afterwards. APP provide each woman with a diary in which they are asked to record notes on their shift – what they did and how they felt.
I left the session feeling really inspired and honoured to have met and worked with so many strong and dedicated women. Since then I have been providing one to one feedback to volunteers on some of their practice answers. This has led to further interesting discussion with individuals about some of the more subtle differences between on and offline communication and support for mental health – and how to make sure you come across as a peer and a friend not a practitioner – even if your day job is also working in mental health.
One of the women has written about the session here. It gives a real insight into how meaningful the session was for everyone involved.
Thanks for all your fabulous work with APP – I think everyone enjoyed the sessions and found the training really valuable.
Ruth Blamey – Project Manager for APP