Peer and community support complement and enhance healthcare services by providing the range of non-clinical support people need to manage their health and live well.
Self-management training supports people to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their health, but research has shown that people’s skills and confidence to self-manage decline over time if they do not have on-going support. In addition, people with long term conditions often experience other challenges, such as social isolation, that have an impact on their health and their ability to self-manage. There is an increasing body of evidence that support from peers and groups within people’s local communities (sometimes called ‘More than Medicine’) can build people’s confidence and resilience in a range of different areas of their life, which all link to their overall health and wellbeing.
What are peer and community support?
Peer support is the help and support that people with lived experience give to each other. A key element of peer support is that it is reciprocal, enabling people to benefit from both giving and receiving support. Community support, which can include peer support, recognises that people live with their health conditions within a community or social network, and that the skills, knowledge, experience and support (sometimes called social capital) available to them within that community can have a significant impact on how an individual manages their health condition(s).
The key types of support people benefit from are:
- Encouraging and enabling self-management behaviours
- Providing social and emotional support
- Supporting people to address wider social and lifestyle aspects of their health
What are the benefits of peer and community support?
The benefits can be very broad, beyond the impact on an individual’s long term health condition, and include:
- Helping people maintain the knowledge, confidence and skills to self-management, by providing goal setting and follow-up
- Addressing wider issues that impact on people’s health and well-being, such as providing social opportunities that reduce isolation
- Increased levels of social support—especially condition-specific support
- Positive impact on the wellbeing of people with long-term health conditions who are providing the peer support and volunteering
- Challenging stigma and discrimination within a community.
The way peer and community support are provided can also be beneficial. Unlike health services, peer and community support can often be available to people ‘on demand’ when they need it, and is usually ‘open access’ so people can choose to access support that meets their own needs and preferences.
Putting in place effective peer and community support
To get the best out of peer and community support there needs to be a wide and appropriate range of support available, that meets the different needs and preferences of local people. This means not only creating a landscape of different kinds of support locally, but ensuring that it is integrated into the healthcare system and people are systematically linked into it.