Mental Health Awareness Month Edition:

Youth-led Peer Support Groups in Mental Health

Peer support is a term that encompasses many different practices and programs with varying degrees of involvement and support. Youth-led peer support programs may help to engage young people in mental health services. These programs, generally facilitated by young people with a lived experience of mental ill-health, address a critical need since services are often under-utilised by youth and lead to unaddressed mental health challenges.

One study has looked directly at outcomes relating to youth peer support in mental health. New York-based researchers surveyed youth ages nine and above about their satisfaction with mental health services and if they had worked with a peer advocate. They found that youth who had access to peer support were more satisfied with mental health services compared to young people who did not have access to peer support. They also found that youth were more content with the appropriateness of services, their participation in services and reported improved outcomes in some areas of functioning (i.e. understanding their medication choices and being able to face challenges and make friends).

Youth perspectives should help to guide the structure and delivery of youth peer support services, including both the youth seeking assistance and the youth providing support. Participative strategies are essential to formatting youth-led support groups. It is essential to work with young people to help them develop a plan to reach their goal of participating in a particular group, detailing the steps to be taken.

Support groups for youth can also take more organic settings and be shaped around a shared interest – like a sport. This can help link a young person into a community activity, e.g. a sporting group, by providing brief support to address barriers. 

Young people want to be included in decisions making as it shows they are included in something, and their voice matters. Building a good relationship with young people is also an excellent way to motivate and empower a young person to come to support groups. Young people love to come to a fun and supportive environment where they can connect with their peers without any fear of being judged.

The Team @ Self Help Queensland

Additional Resources:
Co-designing with Young People: The Fundamentals
Head to Health
Principles of Youth Participation in Mental Health Services
Reach Out: For Young People
Youth Partnership Toolkit

Staying Grounded

It can be challenging at times to make yourself present at groups. If peer support facilitators sense restlessness amongst the group – it may be an opportunity to practice some grounding exercises. Different strategies work for different people, and there is no “wrong” way to ground yourself. The main aim is to keep your mind and body connected and working together.

Grounding exercises are helpful for many situations where you find yourself becoming overwhelmed or distracted by distressing memories, thoughts or feelings. Grounding exercises can help bring you back down to earth. It can take a few forms and picking one depends on you and your group. The Peer Life Coach Handbook and the University of Sydney: Counselling and Psychological Services recommend the following:

  • Sensory awareness grounding exercise
  • Cognitive awareness grounding exercise
  • Writing or saying grounded statements
  • Grounded or mindfulness breathing
  • The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 coping technique

Working some of these techniques into your next group activity could have a significant effect on the collective mood of the group and help participants settle into the session more meaningfully.

Recommended Viewing: Crazywise (Documentary Film)

“… I’ve never seen such a creative and well-constructed piece of film about non-Western views of psychosis. I feel like it very skillfully turns the biomedical model of mental illness on its head and shows so many different ways of looking at what we call madness. I would like everyone who works in the mental health field to watch it.” – Sascha Altman DuBrul, Mad in America

Crazy…or wise? The traditional wisdom of indigenous cultures often contradicts modern views about a mental health crisis. Is it a ‘calling’ to grow or just a ‘broken brain’? The documentary CRAZYWISE explores what can be learned from people around the world who have turned their psychological crisis into a positive transformative experience.

Arafmi’s Support Groups warmly welcomes parents, partners, relatives and friends caring for/about a loved one with mental illness.
Click here to get in touch.

Email or for further information or any queries around strive Carer support groups. Or join the private strive Queensland EDFA Eating Disorder Parents and Carer Support Facebook Group.