Mental Health Community Support Services and Peer Support

Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS) are organisations that provide group programs as well as individual support workers. Many MHCSS employ peer support workers who are people with experiences of being diagnosed with ‘mental illness‘, and / or of being carers. They assist people with lived experience of severe mental health problems through peer support and specific interventions to improve people’s health and wellbeing. Particular areas of support include improving coping strategies, supporting a healthy lifestyle, and supporting people’s efforts towards personal recovery. Personal recovery has become a major focus of MHCSS, which aims to support people to set goals for the future, identify their strengths and improve social connections and participation in the community (see Personal recovery).

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Benefits of attending a group
One-to-one support
Practical help
Getting more involved


Benefits of attending a group

Many people spoke about the benefits they experienced from attending support groups or having a support worker. For Vanessa, isolation, stigma and loss of skills were the biggest problems she faced. She appreciated having somewhere to go on a regular basis. She said that it was important to get ‘out of your house’. Sarah described how attending a group recovery program helped with her feelings of loneliness and ‘things like not being understood’. Susana thought groups should provide more support with vocational training and education because so many people diagnosed with schizophrenia, psychosis, and / or bipolar disorder are unemployed.

Luana found going to a mental health support group really helpful. She enjoyed meeting others at the group and getting visits from her caseworker.

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One-to-one support

Many people spoke about the benefits of accessing one-on-one support from a support worker. Support workers can come from a range of professions, including social workers, counsellors and occupational therapists, and also include peer support workers who are experts through their own lived experience. Support workers are focused on recovery and rehabilitation. The relationship between support workers and clients are often less formal and more based on practical support than what is offered by clinical service providers.

Taylor said her support worker was great and talked to her ‘on the same level’. She comes to Taylor’s house or takes her out for a coffee if she doesn’t want to go out.

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Anna’s support workers are ‘fantastic’ and allow her to have her say about her support plan. She thinks senior medical staff should listen to more to them.

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Although getting out the house was important for some, for others, the fact that support workers could also come to their home was seen as an advantage.

Allen thought having someone visit you at home was better than going to an office.

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Practical help

People received different kinds of help from groups and support workers. Brian had practical support like replacing his fridge when it broke down while Susana went on a few group holiday programmes. Niall said ‘probably the best thing [he] did’ was attend an anxiety support group and a hearing voices support group. With the support of a service he had been with for 10 years he had also started doing creative writing, and had almost finished a book of poetry when we spoke to him.

David found the ‘collaborative recovery model’ used by his outreach service helped him to think about his goals. Working on things that are meaningful to him has helped build his self-esteem.

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Gurvinder said his support worker really helped him organise his time and helped him through ‘some tough times’.

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Getting more involved

Quite a few people we spoke to were very involved in the community with some doing volunteer work and others employed as peer support workers. They described how good it felt to be helping others in similar circumstances. Chris said he facilitates a group where people get together and connect with others and ‘basically get away from their four walls… their isolation’. He said the members were very grateful so ‘it’s good’. Evan spoke about running art therapy workshops. He said the people who attended ‘couldn’t thank [him] enough’. Maria has been doing mental health advocacy since 2004 and trained to do a course for people diagnosed with severe mental health problems on recovery. She has also served on the management board of a mental health organisation, which was enjoyable because of the ‘education and resources’ she was able to provide for others. Carlo is an ambassador for one mental health advocacy group and a volunteer for another. He thinks that sharing knowledge is important.

Helping a mental health organisation has improved David’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Eventually he wants to do peer support work for them.

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