A range of one-to-one, group and online approaches to peer support are increasingly complementing formal mental health service delivery. Evidence is emerging of the potential benefits and challenges of peer support for individuals, communities and organisations. There is more limited evidence describing peer-led peer support networks. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
In an evaluation of Prosper, a peer-led, peer support network and social movement, members of the network played a participatory role in the design, conduct and interpretative work of the evaluation. An online survey, one-to-one interviews and group discussions were used.
The evaluation describes an evolving network with planning and development meetings constituting core activity for many members alongside a monthly training programme supporting people to set up their own activities. There were strong shared values, and consensus that Prosper could strengthen social networks, improve individual well-being and impact on the way people used mental health services. Challenges were identified around feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability in relation to involvement in the network.
The participatory nature of the evaluation adds value to the learning offered. This was a descriptive evaluation; potential is indicated for the more formal modelling and testing of peer-led network and social movement initiatives.
Clarity is needed on the relationship of the network to statutory mental health services – specifically around taking on a “service provider” role – and on the advantages and challenges of a “hybrid” organisational model that combines traditional, hierarchical and new distributed forms of leadership and structure.
Prosper demonstrated potential to create a sense of common culture based on sharing lived experience and mutual peer support, providing an alternative to the traditional culture of mental health services.
This paper offers wider learning derived from evaluation of a highly original initiative in peer leadership, network structure and interface with statutory mental health services.
The authors would like to acknowledge the important role played by the Prosper co-researchers in undertaking this evaluation, and to all Prosper members for giving their time and valuable insight to this project.
Gillard, S., Foster, R. and Turner, K. (2016), "Evaluating the Prosper peer-led peer support network: a participatory, coproduced evaluation", Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 80-91. https://doi.org/10.1108/MHSI-12-2015-0045Download as .RIS
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