When we face stress, asking for help can be scary, but it can also be very powerful. Peer support works because the helper and helped share experiences and mutual support and learning. Peer support can help you when you are facing work stress, client demands, family crises, rocky relationships, substance abuse, and mental health distress.
Get it together, get going, and don’t ask for help
Work can be dominated by pressures to get the job done no matter what the personal stress or cost. When problems hit or when you get run down, it is easy to lose track of personal self-care like sleeping, eating and relationships. At work, there is no patience for the guy who falls behind. If you cannot keep up, then get out. Whether the goal is to get the promotion or to survive the day, the work environment makes it hard to ask for help from competitors or judgemental coworkers.
The worst advice for the depressed or distressed worker is to “get it together” and “don’t be a slacker”. This is unhelpful because people who are depressed are already working very hard just to function. Reminders of failures and mistakes end up making things worse.
Patience and time can help, but if we just withdraw to take the pressure off of our coworkers, then our coworkers may become isolated and hopeless. This creates personal and organizational risk. Creating meaningful conversations can avoid damage to reputations and the organization. But how do we deal with the competitive hierarchical structure of most organizations?
Rather than judgmental conversations, supportive conversations benefit from confidential, open, and peer relationships. Confidentiality can create trust and lead to more genuine and open stories. The non-hierarchical structure of peer relationships also allows people to share without judgement.
Lawyers helping lawyers, teachers helping teachers, parents helping parents
Peer support is about listening, sharing, and supporting rather than advising, judging and prescribing. Peer supporters’ knowledge is based on experience rather than scientific study. .
When we work in an organization, we have an expectation of stress and a set of skills to deal with those stresses. Only coworkers like teachers, lawyers, bankers, or oil worker can understand the triggers and environment that shape specific mental health and substance abuse issues. For example, a lawyer that feels like a “stupid failure”, may face scorn or disbelief among a general group, “How could you think you are stupid? You went to law school.” A lawyer support group can understand the experiences and beliefs that leads to her distress. Understanding rather than judgement can be really powerful.
Peersupportworks.ca will discuss ways that peer support helps in personal and professional settings. Hopefully, this discussion will help at your work and in your life. I invite you to please share your experiences of good or bad peer support at work.