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 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.

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.

Trust: The Gateway to Student Development

I have come to discover that every student has the ability to grow and improve as a learner. By developing a relationship of trust, an environment is created such that students can express their challenges and what they’d like to improve on.

Real growth and development comes from an intrinsic desire to better oneself. A helper can only guide students when that fire is kindled with a supportive, non-judgmental relationship.

Can Gaming Make a Better World?

As part of a Gameful Learning course I’m taking through the University of Michigan, I watched Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on how gaming can create a better world.

McGonigal argues that gamers are a great human resource. They have a quality of urgent optimism and a strong belief that they can solve virtual worlds. It follows that to solve real world problems, we have to make the real world more like a game. McGonigal believes that transformation occurs when you immerse people in an epic adventure.

It’s a fascinating idea. So what are we waiting for? Let’s immerse ourselves and let the epic adventure begin.

The Tendency of Power to Corrupt and How to Avoid It

I recently completed a massive open online course (MOOC) from the University of California, Berkeley.

One of my instructors of the positive psychology course, Dacher Keltner, really inspired me with his passion and research.

I picked up one of his books, Born to be Good, and I’m fascinated with the ideas presented.

Meanwhile, I was discussing the topic of mindfulness with my wife, and she picked up the Harvard Business Review’s Mindfulness book for me. Coincidentally, it contained a chapter written by Keltner titled “Don’t Let Power Corrupt You.”

Keltner writes:

My research has shown that power puts us into something like a manic state, making us feel expansive, energized, omnipotent, hungry for rewards, and immune to risk—which opens us up to rash, rude, and unethical actions.

To avoid succumbing to the downsides of power, he offers advice—backed by research—to individuals in senior roles. First, one must reflect and develop self-awareness. Next, Keltner stresses three practices (again backed by research)—empathy, gratitude, and generosity.

Couldn’t we all cultivate a little more empathy, gratitude, and generosity?

Imagine the jen then, my friend.