Online peer support groups are an exceptionally powerful tool when it comes to efforts aimed at combating all sorts of physical and mental issues people are bothered by. From chronic illness, to depression, to eating disorders, online peer assistance groups are there to facilitate support and provide encouragement among their members. If you’re one of the noble individuals with a calling to help others out, you can start your own peer support group with not much effort at all. Here’s how to approach this.
Community peer support groups meeting in a physical space are a global phenomenon, of course. There are more than half a million of them in the USA alone. One major problem with them, however, is the accessibility, as they’re mostly found in major urban areas. You’ll be more likely to find a support group in a big city than a small town.
Luckily, this can be easily overcome with the application of technology available to anyone, which we’ll discuss in a moment but first let’s get a better understanding of the broader issue.
What exactly is an online peer support group?
An online peer support group, which may also be called a self-help group or a community support group isn’t all that different from its real world counterpart. The premise largely stays the same, only the meeting space digitizes.
An online peer support group is a relatively inexpensive and efficient method of providing assistance to people dealing with various mental or physical issues.
Features of a peer to peer mental health support group will include:
- Some digital, social platform providing the setting
- It’s made up of peers, as the name suggests, people directly affected by a particular problem
- There may be professional leaders or counselors involved
- It’s usually not too big in size, to allow everyone to be recognized and heard
- The attendance is voluntary
The goal of starting an online peer support group is to bring together people who share the same, most likely negative experience. They want to find others like them they can talk to, be understood, and share actionable insights.
Further benefits of an online peer to peer support group include:
▪️ It’s extremely accessible and free of charge – anyone with Internet access can join
▪️ It helps combat isolation and stigmatization, makes people feel less alone and better understood
▪️ It empowers individuals to work through their problems
▪️ It’s a platform for convenient sharing of information important to those involved
▪️ It’s a safe space for expressing oneself
▪️ It helps reduce anxiety, as well as improves self-esteem and wellbeing
▪️ It can offer extra help if professional counselors are involved in the community
How to start an online peer support group?
If you’re wondering how to start a support group for mental health, answering at least some of the following questions will help you get up and running.
What will be the purpose of your peer counseling project? What are you trying to achieve by bringing people together?
Who are you trying to reach? Who’s going to get involved?
Are there already similar peer support programs established?
Are you planning to make your online peer support group available 24/7 or perhaps hold meetings only at designated times?
Will the group be open to all or require some vetting to join?
Will there be any peer recovery specialists, facilitators, or counselors involved?
Communication platform for an online peer support group
Understanding the intangibles of how to start a peer support group on the Internet is absolutely necessary but there’s one other crucial thing I haven’t discussed yet.
It all needs space to take place in.
In other words, you need a platform where support seekers will be able to congregate for therapy sessions.
Chatwee, the solution I suggest you consider, has already been successfully employed on websites of leading mental health support organizations including:
The Mix – a youth peer support initiative
Beat Eating Disorders – a support community for people with eating disorders
SANE Australia – a mental health chat room
The app performs a crucial role in the process of creating a welcoming environment for people struggling with a variety of issues. If you’d like to set up your own mental health chat, for example, Chatwee has all the features to help you get going.
Online peer support groups are a very efficient way of bringing together people dealing with a wide array of issues for the purpose of helping them cope.
In fact, not only are they intended for those directly affected but also their close ones and carers, who often remain somewhat forgotten in the grander scheme of things.
Starting a mental health support group online isn’t that difficult, as the tech and know-how are readily available.
Making a positive impact on people’s lives by establishing a support group is an effort worth applauding. Good luck to everyone involved and remember – a change for the better is within your reach.