The Power of Peer Support for Mental Health Recovery

As a facilitator of a peer support group for men who have experienced anxiety and/or depression, I have come to discover there are many benefits of peer support groups. In this post I’d like to mention a few.

First, peer groups provide encouragement and support.

Second, participants come to learn that they are not alone in their struggles.

Third, there is level of understanding and empathy that can only be provided by those with common lived experiences.

Fourth, individuals are more likely to be courageously vulnerable because the power gradient among peers is lower compared to the typical power hierarchy in client-provider healthcare relationships.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada underscores the value of peer support:

Peer support initiatives can have a great impact on a person’s journey of recovery. The relationship forged between the peer supporter and the person with a mental health problem or illness can help improve quality of life as well as reduce the need for hospitalization.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada also believes that peer support is undervalued.

I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps it’s because I have experienced and continue to experience its transformative effects on people’s lives.

The Biggest Fan of My Blog: Not My Wife

Last week I wrote about a recent camping experience in a post titled My Greatest Challenge When Camping: My Wife.

Shortly after it was made public, I received an email.

Thanks for painting me in such a beautiful light she wrote sarcastically.

Thanks for being a good sport I wrote.

Yeah, right. Everyone’s going to think you married a b****.

Don’t worry, babe. No one reads my blog.

Mustard Pranks

Mustard – I don’t like the taste of it, the smell of it, the look of it, the texture of it, the colour of it. It grosses me out to the max. As a matter of fact, my aversion to the condiment began inside the womb, for my mother’s cells loathe mustard as well.

My children, who are at the sweet young ages of five and seven, decide to play a prank on their old man.

They take a bottle of mustard and disguise it using their red crayons.

mustard bottle
Mustard bottle disguised as ketchup.
Photo by B. Fleming

“Hey Dad, we got this new kind of ketchup to try. It’s really good. I think you’ll like it.”

“Um…okay. I’ll try it on my burger.” I cringe at the site of the yellow stream on my hamburger.

“Ah, kids, it kinda looks like mustard to me.”

“Dad, it’s actually ketchup. It’s made from yellow tomatoes. Try it. It’s really good.”

I take a small bite. My senses cry foul at the pungent yellow nastiness. I spit out the mustarded burger in disgust, and my kids laugh and laugh.

Days later, I come home from work.

“Hey Dad, we got you a present today.”

They hand me a mustard shirt. And they laugh and laugh.

mustard shirt
My new T-shirt.
Photo by B. Fleming

 

The Importance of Feedback in the Learning Process

As a learning skills specialist, I am acutely aware of the importance of continual feedback in the learning process. In Learn Better, Ulrich Boser writes:

The best feedback mixes an observation with a structured way to produce the proper outcome.

Never did this idea become more obvious than when I was watching my 5-year-old son’s swimming lesson the other day. My son is in the process of learning the front crawl. During the lesson, his instructor would have him do a lap of the pool. Then she would point out something that could be done to improve my son’s technique. She used a variety of methods—demonstration, analogy, or hands-on—to show a specific aspect of the skill.

My son would listen attentively and sure enough, when he did his next lap of the pool, his technique improved. Once again, the instructor would provide feedback and guidance, focusing on a single technical component of the stroke. And on it went: lap, feedback, lap, feedback. I observed a marked difference in my son’s mechanics as the lesson progressed.

Whether it’s learning a new skill such as swimming when you’re five, driving a car when you’re a teenager, or conversing more diplomatically when you’re an adult, the value of feedback should not be overlooked. It is essential for mastering any skill.

Post-Anniversary Advice Between Partners

Last week I wrote about the improvised wedding anniversary card I gave to my wife in a post titled What Not To Do On Your Wedding Anniversary.

Shortly after, she emails me a link to a CBC article about the health benefits of abstaining from alcohol. Is she trying to tell me something?

Anyway, in response, I decide to send my red-meat-averse wife a link to an article about the health benefits of eating beef.

I love you, B. Steak tonight?

What Not To Do On Your Wedding Anniversary

Marriage can be hard work.

After years of it, I’m still learning.

I learned a long time ago that for my wife, lavish gifts on special occasions are not as important as sentimental cards.

So this year for our wedding anniversary, I made sure to get a card. But the store I went to didn’t have the greatest selection. I did, however, find a good anniversary card that said, “To my husband…” I purchased the card and with a little creativity, I was able to make it work. In places where the word “husband” appeared, I taped small pieces of paper and wrote “wife.” Below is a picture of my masterpiece.

Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t impressed.

Another lesson learned.

Anniversary Card
Anniversary card to my wife.
Photo by B. Fleming

Going Out On A Limb

One afternoon, my daughter and her friend decided to climb a large maple tree in our front yard. The first large branch is only a few feet off the ground and easy to get to for a kid who’s climbed a couple trees before. The problem, however, was that my daughter had no experience climbing trees. She couldn’t get up on that first branch that’s only a few feet off the ground. She tried a few times with no success. Her initial frustration quickly escalated to catastrophic heights.

As she stormed away from the maple and into the house, she screamed, “I suck at climbing trees! I’ll never be able to climb a tree in my life! I’m a loser!” Then the tears came.

I waited a moment before I followed her into the house.

I found her face down on the couch. I rubbed her back and said, “Listen. Climbing a tree is hard. It takes lots of practice. If climbing a tree is something you want to be able to do, we can work on it. You can’t do it yet. Remember, you couldn’t ride your bike at first, but now you’re really good. You are good at lots of things. You are definitely not a loser.”

Over the next few days, I found my daughter under the maple tree trying different ways to pull herself up onto that first branch. And the look on her face when she finally did was priceless.

 

 

Requiem For/From A Friend

Thank you for guiding me. You made a difference in my life. And I will miss you.

You said a quiet mind is not a precursor to peace. Your mind keeps going, but you can recognize that you don’t have to get involved with it. Don’t involve yourself. We constantly try to resist everything. This is the mind, you said. Don’t be involved with this resistance, and you will be at peace. Soften...Experience… Create a distance between you and your thoughts. Don’t engage. The mind comes up with many things. Don’t fight your mind. When you don’t engage, the troubling thought is gone. It’s kinda like bubbly bubbly Eno. Don’t identify with your thoughts, your personality. You’ll ask, who is this? But this is not conceptual, you said. This is a feeling, a sense. You will discover a power within yourself so nothing empowers you. With this new power, this new awareness, your general way of being will be at peace.

Thank you for guiding me. You made a difference in my life. And I will miss you.

A Dent In My Boat, But She Keeps Me Afloat

Peace at 7:00 a.m. in a kayak on a summer morning. Just me, my daughter, and nature.

My serenity, however, is broken when I arrive home, for when I unload my kayak, I notice a couple small dents on the hull. I’m angry. How could I have let this happen?

“Man, I can’t believe it! Look at these dents.”

My seven-year-old daughter responds in a calm voice. “Daddy, it’s fine. I have a dent in my water bottle and it still works just fine.”

There is wisdom behind her words. Don’t let the imperfections, the nicks, the scratches, the dents, the depressions—whatever you call them—consume you. Things still work just fine.