What works for peer support groups: learning from mental health and wellbeing groups in Bath and North East Somerset

Date13 February 2017
Published date13 February 2017
AuthorJon Fieldhouse,Vanessa Parmenter,Ralph Lillywhite,Philippa Forsey
What works for peer support groups:
learning from mental health and wellbeing
groups in Bath and North East Somerset
Jon Fieldhouse, Vanessa Parmenter, Ralph Lillywhite and Philippa Forsey
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore what worked well in terms of peer involvementin a diverse
network of community groups for people affected by mental health problems in Bath and North East
Somerset (BANES), UK.
Design/methodology/approach A participatory action inquiry approach engaged the networks key
stakeholders (group members, facilitators, and commissioners) in critical reflection on what supported
successful groups.
Findings Successful groups have six characteristics: mutual support, a positive shared identity,
opportunities for taking on roles, negotiated ground rules, skilled facilitation, and a conducive physical
environment. Additionally, each group achieved a balance between the following areas of tension: needing
ground rules but wanting to avoid bureaucracy, needing internal structure whilst also committing to group
activities, balancing leadership with accountability, wanting peer leadership whilst acknowledging the burden
of this responsibility, and lobbying for change in mental health services whilst acknowledging the need for
support from them.
Research limitations/implications The evaluation shows a groups success is about adaptability
and group facilitation is the art of navigating a course through these competing demands above.
These insights have informed plans for a practical guide for developing peer led groups and for training of
peer leaders in BANES.
Originality/value This evaluation focuses on self-efficacy. It draws on group membersown perceptions of
what worked best for them to provide transferable learning about how peer led support groups might develop
more generally. It can thus inform the growth of a comparatively new kind of community-based support for
people with mental health problems and for their carers.
Keywords Mental health, Community groups, Participatory action inquiry, Peer support/involvement
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
St Mungos Broadway , in partnership wi th Creativity Wor ks and Sirona Commu nity Links
Team commissioned two evaluators (authors JF and VP) from the Faculty of Health and
Applied Science s at the University of th e West of England (UW E), Bristol, to explo re
a network of community groups for people affected by mental health difficulties living
in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES). The six participating groups all
deemed successfulin terms of peer involvement by the host organisations are
presented in Box 1.
Peer involvement means group members facilitating their own groups and having a
meaningful say in any decision that may affect them. Across the groups in Box 1 there
were different degrees of peer involvement, but allfellintooneofthetopthreelevelsinTableI,
as defined by St Mungos Ladder of Involvement in their Client Involvement Toolkit
(St Mungos, 2016).
Jon Fieldhouse and
Vanessa Parmenter are both
based at the Department of
Allied Health Professions,
University of the West of
England, Bristol, UK.
Ralph Lillywhite is based at the
Bridges to Wellbeing Service,
St Mungos, Bath, UK.
Philippa Forsey is a
Programme Manager at
Creative Wellbeing, Creativity
Works, Bath, UK.
DOI 10.1108/MHSI-11-2016-0032 VOL. 21 NO. 1 2017, pp. 25-33, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2042-8308
PAG E 25

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