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Mental Health Nurses Day: The value of peer support in mental health care

General / Tue 20th Feb 2024 at 12:17pm

SIMON Cross is a lived experience ambassador and trained peer support worker, who has worked with staff at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust in a number of ways to improve care for patients.

Ahead of Mental Health Nurses’ Day (21 February), he explains why peer support and co-production is so important in mental health care.

Having personal experience of what patients are going through means peer support workers have a deeper level of understanding, says Simon.

“With the best will in the world, even my peer support worker training qualification doesn’t mean anything unless you’ve got some form of comparable experience and an understanding of what someone is going through,” he said.

“Sympathising isn’t the same as empathy, which is saying ‘I can’t put myself in your shoes but explain it to me so I can have a better understanding’.

“Peer support means you are two people on a journey. Peer support workers have been on a journey that is parallel to the patient’s journey.”

Simon’s own road to recovery has been difficult and long, but has inspired him to help others.

The 59-year-old from Southend was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder a year ago, but it had taken seven years to reach the point of being diagnosed.

Simon had been molested as a boy. He had also suffered several bereavements, including the death of a close friend in childhood and had lost a number of close relatives in recent years, including his parents and sister within a short space of time.

He said: “People deserve understanding and finally being able to identify those areas that have caused my life to be not as fulfilled as I’d have liked it to have been was not a cure, but the start of the road to recovery.

“I think if you have had the opportunity to recover that is a joyous thing and you should be able and confident, if you’re that sort of person, to share it with someone else and encourage them to talk about things that have gone astray in their own lives and support them.”

He sees peer support as an additional tool to medication, therapies, and coping skills to help people in their recovery.

Simon, who has undertaken voluntary work for many years including advocacy for vulnerable people, was invited to become a lived experience ambassador after he made a complaint about services and suggested improvements that could be made.

“I was very sceptical but I now know co-production is one of the highest things on the agenda for EPUT,” said Simon, who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry and politics.

“One of the early pieces of work I did was address a new intake of staff and talk to them about my experiences.

“It was very gratifying to hear their feedback afterwards.”

Simon has been involved in several other projects, including developing new training for staff who handle calls from members of the public and interviewing candidates for nursing jobs.

He is especially grateful to mental health nurses for the work they do in challenging and complex circumstances.

He said: “I think nurses probably have the toughest job in the NHS as I think they do the lion’s share of the work and it’s very important they can deliver services in an effective way.

“I met a number of nurses on a local ward and they’re finding peer support extremely useful because it means they can spend more of their time doing the work they need to do on the wards while peer support workers can do activities with the patients such as taking someone for a walk around the grounds.

“Peer support does take a little bit of pressure off nursing staff at times when they might be busy or dealing with a crisis on the ward.”

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