What role can online peer support play to help housing associations tackle poor mental health?

by | Sep 26, 2022 | Health and wellbeing, HOME FEATURED LEFT | 0 comments

Author: Emily Bromiley, Togetherall

The dual impact of COVID-19 and a profound cost of living crisis fuelled by rising inflation is having a devastating result on people’s mental health. Mental health and housing is, of course, closely linked.

Safe, secure and good quality accommodation is an essential component to support people whether they suffer with mental illness or not. Housing is an important part of an integrated system of community care to people with mental health conditions. People living in social housing face many factors which act as determinants for stress, distress and depression, ranging from income and financial difficulties, comorbid physical conditions and challenges with social connections.

There is a growing understanding of the role housing associations and providers can play, both as integrated players in pathways of care and by providing tools for wellbeing support to resident populations.

What is peer support?

Peer support has a widely established but increasingly well-recognised role in mental health support systems. It is used widely across the NHS and in community care as a tool to support people with both physical and mental health illnesses – whether to manage long-term conditions or to support recovery.

Peer support workers, social prescribing, peer mentors and peer support groups can be found in primary care systems, as part of outpatient treatment pathways, led by recovery-focused support charities, and of course, in the housing sector.

While the range of models of peer support differs widely, at its core, peer support is about people helping people.

It might be a trained person in recovery offering one-on-one support to a person with an ongoing health condition, or it may be found in a facilitated clinical setting where a group of people with shared lived experiences exchange support.

The benefits of peer support include the installation of hope, and a sense of belonging, and it has been shown to foster self-empowerment and self-determination. Exchanging stories based on lived experience can have a normalising and validating effect to help people feel that they are not alone in their feelings, thoughts, emotions or experiences. Helping others through the empathetic exchange can also have personal benefits and build a sense of community.

While peer support is used as a component in treatment at some levels of stepped-care and recovery, it is often complementary support alongside treatment as well as a preventative tool.

Taking peer support online – a story inspired by housing residents

While there are many benefits to peer support models, there are some challenges to their delivery. Peer support groups need to be facilitated and managed, often by mental health professionals, when used in a clinical context, and individual peer workers and mentors require training – not to mention recruiting.

Physical (in-person) forms of peer support and peer support groups, while essential for people to build connections in the community – do require a space, place and time to take place. It can be, therefore, difficult for individuals to access such support.

That’s why Togetherall was founded in 2007. It was launched as an online space for group peer support, one that was easier to access, unrestricted by place or time, and clinically safeguarded by an always-active team of mental health professionals who are overseen by a 24/7 clinical team.

Actually, Togetherall’s has its foundational roots in social housing. The founder, who set up the first version of our online community, had been inspired by reading the thoughts, feelings and messages of support written and painted onto the boardings around a housing estate that had been earmarked for demolition and redevelopment. The residents of that came together to express how they felt and to support each other with messages of unity.

That sparked the idea that an online version of this concept could do the same for many more people.

 

 

“It helps to know that others are going through similar things and people offer good advice to each other.”
- Togetherall Member

15 years in the making

Ever since, Togetherall has been building the largest community for online mental health peer support – and active community of tens of thousands. It is free for individuals to join but the relatively low running costs are paid for by participating commissioners across health, local authorities and housing providers.

Many people join to get things off their chest, to tell others about their hard day, to share a story about their current situation, or simply to read the stories left by others.

To these many stories, other members of the community offer messages of support while our paid professionals offer encouragement, active listening and when necessary, direct intervention to people in immediate distress.

  • Over 85% of people joining Togetherall experience symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Half of members surveyed said 24/7 access was a primary reason for joining
  • 60% of people access Togetherall for support outside of regular working hours
  • 73% of members surveyed found Togetherall helpful while on a waitlist

In addition to the community interaction and direct support from professionals, members are offered clinically approved courses, standardised mental health assessments, tools for journalling and goal setting. There is also a hub of tailored resources which can be specific to the route by which someone joins the community – we provide links within the individual’s online profile, back to local resources. A housing provider may, for instance, provide links to other available wellbeing services available to residents.

 

 

“On good days I can support others. On bad days, when I need supporting, I can find information to understand how to deal with it.”
- Anonymous Togetherall Member

Let’s talk about online peer support for your community

We know that online peer support is an affordable and effective addition to wellbeing support tools as part of support provisions in the community. We believe that Togetherall can offer a safe and accessible tool to people living with mental health conditions, those in recovery and many more people who just need a place to turn to anonymously and safely for support.

We are keen to speak with housing providers who are looking to expand their range of instant- and self-access interventions to their resident population. If you would like to learn more, please contact me via emily.bromiley@togetherall.com or click this link to book a call directly.