The mental health plateau has officially experienced a Rennaissance – of a sort. The stigma revolving around exceptionally common yet often cloaked mental conditions, such as depression or high-functioning anxiety, has finally released its iron-casted grip; and we’re free to say: ME TOO. Once a lonely place, mental health issues have grown and lived to become the most common denominator in human beings. From a psychological perspective, our ability to expand empathy relies almost exclusively on the experiential. The more similar our experiences, the more insight (and compassion) will be for our emotional apparatus to grow and accommodate other people’s struggles. Today, our society is no stranger to an extensive mental hindrance palette – when we hear “I feel you.”, we know they genuinely mean it. Many prefer peer support over therapy because the stigma around professional help is still pretty tangible.
You don’t walk alone
Mental health issues often trap and confine us to what we call “a unique kind of hell.” It is ours to own, endure and learn from. The illness’s despotic pull often leaves the individual completely disarmed and incapable of looking and cognizing beyond the negative pattern’s horizon. When all inner chaos breaks loose, self-care becomes next to useless. Obsolete, absurd, and senseless. No matter how dark the premise is, when caught in the vortex of our own emotional and mental demise, we should understand that our “hardest hours” road is anything but deserted; we do not walk alone.
Pain is universal in humans; no one is exempt from suffering, no matter how seemingly flawless their surface is. Relating is paramount. The balance equation reads: give and take. Our peers can relate to what we’re experiencing – and vice versa.
For the ones struggling with mental health issues, traditional one-on-one therapy can prove to be quite tricky in the beginning. Why? Because opening up takes some getting used to, especially if we’re building rapport with a stranger. The process is delicate and could take a substantial amount of time due to the nature of this particularly complex, non-organic relationship. (i.e., would we converse about our darkest, most secluded existential corners with a stranger?) Traditional therapy takes time, as trust is built gradually. This much we know: bottling up our emotions can be detrimental. If we want to heal our wounds, getting comfortable dissecting our emotional apparatus is paramount.
So, why do many choose peer support over therapy?
Trust is gained much quicker, as group settings tend to operate within a well-established safe space. Individuals feel free to let their “I don’t trust you, leave me alone” guard down and let their fellow support beams hold their burden. When mutual sharing is encouraged, healing takes place almost immediately and organically.
Letting it all out
-and feeling heard. The most effective and quickest way to get out of our troublesome head starts with the good old: get it off your chest. Accumulation of negative emotions can bear severe consequences; it can, indeed, make us ill. The more vocal we become about the things that burden us, the clearer the issue becomes. The gray, muttered cloud of vagueness now transforms into something tangible and comprehendible. Once articulated, the underlying problem is much easier to perceive. Unlike traditional therapy, where patience (with it, time) is required to overcome and embrace the narrative of one-sidedness, peer support opens the door to identifying and understanding our own emotions, thoughts, and feelings through the narrative of togetherness.
The connection between anxiety and addiction is surprisingly powerful, as millions of individuals across the globe find relief (and often out of utter despair) in self-destructive behavior. Although it’s not considered a general rule, they can go hand in hand. Peer support can be of tremendous help, as people with a substance abuse history can relate and offer support that stems from a personal experience rather than a theory.
A source of relevant information
Another considerable benefit of peer support is having direct access to vital information. Engaging in a dialogue with someone who’s known our struggle can provide meaningful, first-hand tips and advice. And it only makes sense, no? We want someone who has shared and is familiar with our reality by our side. We want that in an ally. Helpful information could come in the form of a tried-and-tested technique that helps fight panic attacks, relapse precipice, or “sad legs” in depression. Or – we could learn about a new medication that could help our current condition.
One-on-one therapy can be costly, making it that much harder for individuals to get the help and attention they acutely need. On the other hand, peer support groups are cost-effective and are considered a popular choice medical bill-wise. (a poor financial situation, no insurance, etc.) Another huge plus is that thousands of free or low-cost groups exist. (usually provided through local organizations) Studies have found that individuals in peer support groups are less likely to be readmitted or enroll in an inpatient program.
There is a light that never goes out
Peer support shows us the light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve made it to the other side, so it’s possible. They’re the living, breathing proof – and when the darkness surrounding us is vast, ruthless, and relentless, they will be there to show us the way—getting unconditional support from the ones who have “made it” can lift our spirits and guide us toward self-salvation. Nobody will do it for you. But they can cheer on and keep the lights on. The experience can be life-altering. Human beings are hard-wired to connect and heal together. That’s why we’re here. Having a community to lean on can make all the difference.
Lastly, people prefer peer support over therapy because it allows them to help others and give something back. Every shared story is unique, so it will find the one who needs to hear it.
Mark Larson is a full-time blogger and a free-time sculptor. His favorite niches include psychology, fine arts, and carpentry.