More and more charities are setting up online support communities – a space online for people who use their services to come together and share information, offer support and help each other to feel less alone. It’s almost expected now – if you don’t have a space like this, you may find people use your Facebook page or other social media pages to ask questions and support each other.
Communities are an excellent way to increase reach, help people connect and improve outcomes. Online community members (especially those who are established and ready to ‘give back’) are often more engaged with the charity and more likely to take part in focus groups, respond to surveys and even fundraise.
The need for moderation
But online communities need to be monitored and moderated. As an example, I recently conducted an online consultation for a charity in the process of setting up a new community. Participants identified a number of issues they had come across in badly moderated or unmoderated communities.
Posts going unanswered – or answers being unbalanced with some people getting lots of responses and some people getting very few.
Just before Christmas I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why I volunteer at Christmas. It was a personal explanation of my motivation to volunteer, why I’ve continued to do so since leaving YouthNet and why it’s particularly important at Christmas.
It was one of a series on Christmas volunteering. It was the only one about online or virtual volunteering. I’m glad it was represented – I’ve managed online volunteers for many years and have seen it becoming increasingly popular, especially in support work. I wanted to explain in a bit more detail how it can have as much, if not more, impact as your more traditional face to face volunteering.
A more detailed description of what running a live support chat is actually like can be found here. Here’s some more info on the volunteer role I managed for five years – online peer advisors. If you’d like to chat support volunteering, virtual volunteering, training volunteers and giving peer support online, drop me a line.
Now I’m off to open up TheSite.org chat room for another Sunday support session.
What does moderating real time support chat online for 10 – 25 young community members involve?
Every other Sunday I moderate support chat on TheSite.org. TheSite runs a number of types ofchat – I’ve also been an expert for their recent Mindfulness chat. I used to do moderation as part of my role as Advice and Training Manager at YouthNet – but since leaving I have continued in a volunteer capacity.
Support chat is the most common type of chat. For two hours, four evenings a week, the chat room is open for anyone to sign into. Usually it’s community members who come along (young people who are regular chat and discussion forum users) but sometimes it’s a gateway for new people to discover TheSite’s support service. Chatting in real time helps to strengthen the community who gather around the discussion forums. And sometimes regular forum users come into chat under a different name to discuss a more confidential issue.
Support chat is a group peer support space. It allows young people to chat in real time about their difficulties, get peer support from others and give people the benefit of their own experiences and suggestions. Sometimes it is a space for chat and distraction.
It’s a non judgmental and safe space. It is the role of the moderator to keep it that way – even when it gets very busy. Sometimes the chat transcripts can run to 80-100 pages when downloaded into Word. That’s a lot of support for an evening. In general there is a strong focus on managing mental health and wellbeing, although lots of other topics come up too. These can include friendships, relationships, self harm, accessing health services, school and college, online dating, bereavement, music and X Factor (to name a few!).
A moderator’s role
As a moderator I will be ensuring that everybody in the chat gets support and noone is ignored. This can involve offering suggestions and signposts or encouraging others to offer peer support. I am not there as a counsellor and would never diagnose or tell someone what they should do. Instead I am there to facilitate peer support, to give young people the space to talk and help them decide what courses of action are right for them. Continue reading →
Running a training day for volunteers working on a new online peer support service for APP
I was really pleased to be asked to help out with APP’s new online peer support programme.
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.
Benefits of online peer support
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.
Peer support in the training room
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. Continue reading →
I’ve written four articles for lifestyle, health and mental wellbeing magazine ONEinFOUR.
Spring-Summer 2013 – managing depression and anxiety in relationships
The first was published in the Spring-Summer 2013 issue. It was one of the cover stories and explored managing anxiety and depression in relationships.
More recently I’ve written three pieces for the Autumn-Winter 2013 issue. A piece about volunteering and mental health, an article on stigma and a longer piece on managing the festive season by avoiding making too many comparisons.
Clare uses her knowledge of mental health and previous professional experience to write good mental health and wellbeing related content that focuses on what would be useful for people to know. The results of this moves mental health away from a symptom/service defined subject and into the real textures and experiences of everyday life.
Mark Brown – One in Four Magazine and Director Social Spider CIC
Last Wednesday evening I was in an old tube train, in a courtyard in Great Ormond Street, presenting a radio show which played out in rooms all over the hospital. Children could call in and request songs, or sing along – we told jokes and ran a competition to see who could do the best ‘yeehaaa’ (it was cowboy night). I volunteer with Radio Lollipop on Wednesday evenings – either on the radio, or playing up on the wards. Usually I make it along, unless I’m ill, or work runs late. Even when I’m tired and stressed and feel I would much rather go home and crash on the sofa, I know that if I make it along, I’ll feel glad I did later on, and pleased with myself for making the effort.
Finding the motivation to volunteer when you’re depressed
But there were times in my past when, despite knowing this, it wasn’t so easy to put one foot in front of the other and go where I said I would be. People with depression or anxiety will, of course, recognise the disparity between good times and those when you’re depressed in terms of what you can achieve. The difficulty is when it impacts on others. When I was in good mental health I was enthusiastic, excited and confident to try new things. I would sign up for lots of things, volunteering, new opportunities, social events. Then, when a depressive period hit, I could no longer face going – and usually beat myself up about it as a result. For some people, it’s not about having good times and bad, but simply negotiating the gap between the idea of doing something and the actuality of gaining the motivation and conquering the anxiety that leaving the house and engaging in something new involves.
Volunteering because of past difficulties with mental health/ wellbeing
On the Wednesday before Christmas, my colleague and friend Laura and I went to help out with the Great Ormond Street and Radio Lollipop‘s Rockin’ Reindeer Christmas parties. Usually we volunteer for Radio Lollipop in Great Ormond Street on a Wednesday evening. We spend two hours after work each week visiting and playing with children on the wards, while other volunteers run a radio show. The children can request songs and enter competitions on different themes each week.
At Christmas, there’s lots more than usual going on. A couple of Saturdays before, we both helped out at a Tin Pan Annie concert (fundraising for Radio Lollipop) where we dressed up as a snowflake and a reindeer, waved at and danced with kids during songs – then shook buckets at the end.
The Rockin’ Reindeer Christmas parties were held over two days, two on Wednesday and two on Thursday, each for an hour and a half. We were both helping on Wednesday afternoon and we spent the parties running a craft table where children who were at the hospital at the moment, or had been in 2011, could do some sticking, gluing, colouring and, in this picture, making reindeer out of playdough. We also did some celeb spotting, spying the Weasley twins, Tess Daley, the Radio 1 crew, a Santa Claus who sounded suspiciously like Boris Johnson and a number of stormtroopers (do they count as celebs!).
This is a write up of my thoughts, experience and findings from the In Petto conference ‘Exploring Online Peer to Peer Support’ in Antwerp. I attended this, along with a volunteer peer advisor last November.
Structures and systems for providing online peer support.
At the conference we were focusing in more depth on peer support and how this could be given online. Before giving our own workshop, we heard from a range of other organisations, each with quite different ways of offering peer support online. Continue reading →