Written by Lynn Slawsky, Executive Director and Gabriella Giachin, Communications Coordinator
When the world shut down last March, it was shocking and scary. As ANAD quickly shifted to 100% remote, we realized that we were all in this together. Having this shared experience was humbling for us all. We solved tech problems together, we shared frustrations, we communed on Zoom about having to wear masks. Our shared experience allowed us to provide each other with peer support. It felt reassuring, meaningful, and frankly, absolutely necessary for survival.
So too with peer support in mental health. Peer support is when people use their own experiences to support each other through encouragement and assistance. It’s a form of mental health support that has been informally used throughout history. A recognizable example is Alcoholics Anonymous. Many people may not realize how impactful it may be, because the industry focuses heavily on clinical solutions. However, once you do have peer support, the connection through shared experience feels vital.
Within the eating disorder community, ANAD has found peer support to be incredibly impactful for those in pursuit of recovery, particularly during the isolation of this pandemic. It is so reassuring to speak with someone who understands the difficulty of recovery, especially within the context of an entirely digital world, without having to describe why. Treatment teams can leave you feeling like a puzzle they’re trying to solve peer support provides an ally who can understand that feeling and help you work through it. Peer support provides a consistent reminder that recovery is possible.
In one of our recent peer support groups at ANAD, a participant explained that they were nervous to try on summer clothes. They asked for advice on tackling a task that may not be challenging to many people, but really was for them. A peer who is a bit further along in recovery responded, “I was scared too. What has worked for me is to cut all the size tags out of my clothes. Then I try things on away from mirror so I can focus on how the clothes feel on me rather than how I look in them.” This person provided support from a place of true empathy and understanding the paralyzing fear that can come with something as simple as trying on clothes.
We are fortunate to live in an age where peer support is literally at our fingertips. The pandemic has proven to us that it’s possible to find solid, meaningful peer support online. It’s a click away. Your group of peers is just a click away.