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Can peer support help young people who are feeling low?

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Three quarters of young people believe that talking to a friend is a way they can get support if they are feeling low, especially for the first time.

This is one of the key findings from SYP’s #WhatsYourTake survey, based on the views of over 800 young people. We tied in with the Public Petitions Committee’s research into Peer Mental Health Support, through the online survey and through the Health and Wellbeing Committee’s meeting at the SYP70 sitting. It’s clear that mental health is a prominent issue for many young people, and finding support can be scary for some! This research looks into some of the ways young people can get support, and how things can be improved to make sure no one feels alone. When we talk about peer support, we mean young people supporting other young people – like talking to friends.

Some of the other popular responses on where to get support included speaking to a family member, or a staff member at a school, college or university. A majority of the most popular suggestions involved speaking to someone that you already know and trust, however 45% also felt that speaking to a doctor was also a good option.

We also asked “Can peer support play a role in supporting young people who are feeling low?” 97% of young people agreed that it can play a part,  suggesting that sharing your feelings with a friend can make you feel less alone, and it can be really beneficial to share with someone your own age, who may be going through the same things that you are. It was also suggested that talking to your friend can be the first step in your journey to get help, as from there you may feel more confident to speak to a health professional or someone who can offer medical support.

During the Health and Wellbeing committee session, we dived into what the impact of seeking support from a friend could be, and the best circumstances for it. We agreed with the many people in the survey who explained that sometimes it’s much easier to talk to your trusted friends and people your own age. We also discussed some of the barriers involved, like making sure the person supporting you is in the right headspace to take on a supportive role, or that they understand mental health well enough to understand what you’re going through. Some of the 817 young people taking part in the survey also agreed that there are some concerns to be considered when relying on peer support, such as the wellbeing of the person who is supporting you, as they may need support themselves. Young people felt that it’s important for the supporting friend to know that it is not their responsibility to help, and they should only help when they are feeling up to it.  Furthermore, some young people were concerned that peer support is not a substitute for professional help, but again highlighted that it is a good starting point. Another worry was that unhelpful advice could be unintentionally given, which could make the situation worse in the long run.

Overall, most young people agreed that peer support can be a great way to improve your mental health when you’re struggling, but ultimately it must be taken on a case by case basis. Some young people may find speaking to a professional or someone they don’t already know easier, and some friends are better at being supportive than others. Peer support could be improved with more information and resources being made available to the public on how to help friends who are struggling, and mental health in general.

By Emily Nix MSYP and Aimee Purdie, Convener and Deputy Convener of Health and Wellbeing Committee.

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