Content note: This blog mentions suicide.
Jess is a SANE Peer Support Worker and long-time fan of people with shared experiences supporting each other. Jess talks about the power of peer support to prevent suicide and create hope.
I am a blogger from way back and when I first started my blog I was thinking about how it might help others to hear my story. I thought it might provide hope.
What I never expected was how much my readers would help me and give me hope.
Over the last five or so years I have developed a small, tight-knit and wonderful online community through my blog. Often when I am going through a difficult time, it is my online community I turn to for support. Because I know they just get it.
Following my suicide attempt, I felt like such a stranger to the world. I didn’t feel like I could talk to the people in my life about what I was feeling. I didn’t want to worry them. My online community played a huge role in moving me from that dark space to a place of hope.
Feeling suicidal can feel really isolating. So knowing there are people out there online, who have gone through and are going through the same things makes me feel so much braver.
It has been amazing to find a community of like-minded people online who I can look to for solidarity, support and wisdom. I was especially never prepared that this community would go beyond just being interested in my mental health and my diagnoses.
They tune in for updates about my cat, my rants about the post office and even watch movies with me online. They have supported me through friendship breakdowns, shown me solidarity during major disclosures and laughed with me over silly memes.
I love how the online space makes accessing peer support so accessible! You can be anywhere in the country, on your lunch break or out and about and you can reach out and be heard. Online peer support has allowed me to find my people.
Online peer support has also taught me many things. Honestly, I have learned more useful information about my diagnoses from people I chat to online than any professionals.
For example, I attended dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) online last year. And whist the facilitators were fantastic, what really helped keep the key learnings in my head was talking to my peers in the group and in my online community.
DBT is all about practice and developing new ways of relating to the world. Each time I talked to one of my online peers about DBT I added another tool to my kit to keep me safe when feeling highly distressed or suicidal.
This is not to say that peer support is better than or should replace professional support, but it is a great way of learning practical things you can incorporate in your daily life and for crisis situations.
This is part of what interested me in becoming a Peer Support Worker at SANE Australia. I was aware of all the amazing ways people can come together online and the valuable things that can be learned. I wanted to be a part of providing a safe and supportive space for people to do this.
As much as I have benefitted from online communities, they aren’t always safe and can make things worse sometimes.
Sometimes I can find myself extremely triggered by what others post, or comparing myself to others and putting myself down as if I don’t have it ‘that bad’, or that recovery is beyond me.
This is one reason I am such a fan of the online peer Forum that SANE offers. Posts going up on the Forums are checked for their safety, which means they are less likely to be triggering or give unsolicited advice, which are some of the risks of other online communities.
Something else I love about SANE’s peer Forum is that it is peer moderated, meaning Peer Support Workers (like me) are in the background in case people need extra support. So members know that when someone would benefit from a professional checking in, it is not their responsibility - we will step in to help.
Hope is a fragile and precious thing. And for me it has often been the kindness and strength of strangers from all over the world that has given me hope when I thought hope was lost.
And now, it is my absolute privilege to be able to pay this forward as a Peer Support Worker at SANE. To support to others in the way others inspired me is a dream come true.
As a SANE Peer Support Worker, I have seen how my story and the stories of others can create hope.
When I share my story of recovery – and not the glossy recovery you hear about all the time in the media, but the messy one that takes lots of work every day – I see how it makes people feel less isolated and more confident about their future.
As far as I’ve seen, peer support, whether it’s a blogging community or a moderated forum, provides hope every day to people going through mental health issues or struggling with suicidal thoughts and actions.
I would not be here today without the peer support I have received at my lowest points. But it’s still my community during my highest points too. Having peers to share with in my highs, lows and everything in between makes my life, on the whole, far more meaningful.
I am so glad to have found my online community and to now be part of the SANE peer community through my role as a Peer Support Worker.
Online Peer Support at SANE is anonymous so you can be you and find your people! Hope to chat sometime soon!