How peer support adapted to a digital world during Covid-19
The Meaningful connections research report is based on engagement with 170 different peer support services and 110 participants from across Scotland.
It is a celebration of the innovative and responsive solutions that peer support facilitators and services are providing at a time of challenge and uncertainty. As many services were stopping, the Third Sector and grassroots peer support groups, in particular, were trying out new ways of working. Peer support adapted quickly and continues to evolve. Providers learned new skills, found their way around digital tools. They supported participants to feel comfortable to do the same.
The report highlights the benefits, as well as the challenges, of taking peer support into the digital space. This at a time when continuing to provide mental health support and maintaining relationships is more important than ever.
What did we learn?
Key learning from the research:
- Support during lockdown was innovative and responsive
- Flexibility was a key enabler of success
- The digital divide was a key barrier
- Facilitators need support to make this approach work
- Remote peer support worked for a lot of people
The big question was how to build connection and compassionate relationships when you are not in the same room together? Would it even be possible? Simply put, yes!
The people that come responded really positively, surprisingly positively, they seem to appreciate it and feel that sense of connection with people. I had an assumption people weren’t feeling as connected, but they said they had and it had been good.Peer support provider
Digital is seen not as a replacement for face-to-face peer support but as an additional approach that can provide choice and meaningful connections.
They’ve said even when face-to-face groups come back they’d still like to have the Zoom groups because they’ve really enjoyed that connection. They’ve said nothing beats being face-to-face but this is something they would like to continue maybe once a month. They’d like a blended approach.Peer support provider
Investment in peer support
The evidence for more investment in peer support is growing. This research complements the findings from the Staying connected and Build back better resources. It once again highlights the need to invest in and build on lived experience and peer support as an integral part of mental health and wellbeing support in our communities.
Scottish Recovery Network’s Acting Director, Louise Christie commented:
The ability of peer support to adapt and change during Covid-19 lockdown should be celebrated and built on. The Meaningful connections research further cements the need for peer support to become a much more important and valued part of our mental health system.
We would like to thank all the peer support providers and participants who gave their time to contribute to this research. Learning from the report will be shared widely and we hope encourage further conversations and action (see event opportunity below) to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from peer support in the future.