What is peer work and how can it help me?

Peer work is a form of mental health support provided by people who have had their own experience with life and mental health challenges. Peer workers use their experience to help others and are trained to facilitate safe and respectful conversations.

Interested in learning more about peer work? You’ve come to the right place! We spoke with three peer workers, Emily, Saahil and Jessica, and Marty, the Senior Manager Support Services from ReachOut, to learn more about what peer work is and how peer workers can support you.

If I [had known] there was someone out there who had their own journey of mental health, [and who] didn’t know me or anyone else in my personal life, [and] who could open up about what helped them, I probably would’ve opened up a lot earlier.

Download the transcript here.

Here’s what we learnt about peer work:

What is peer work?

Also known as peer support, peer work is a form of mental health support. A professional who uses peer work to support others is known as a peer worker.

Peer workers have had their own experience with life and mental health challenges. They’re trained to facilitate safe and respectful conversations, and to use their experience to support others.

What kinds of experiences have peer workers faced?

A peer worker’s experience might include things like:

  • work or school stress

  • issues with friendships, family and other relationships

  • gender and sexuality

  • cultural identity

  • alcohol, drug or other substance use

  • trauma

  • loss

  • mental health diagnoses such as anxiety or depression.

What are the benefits of talking to a peer worker?

Chats with a peer worker are guided by you based on what you need. When you’re going through a tough time, it’s easy to feel isolated. Talking to someone who’s been through a similar experience can help you to feel less alone and like it’s okay to talk about what’s going on for you. Seeing someone else who’s been through something similar can give you hope that you can also get through the tough times – and even grow from them.

Many people find it helpful to speak with someone they don’t know personally. A peer worker can be a listening ear and offer an objective view.

Some organisations are offering peer work services for free or at a low cost, so this can be a great place to start if you want to reach out for help but are unsure of what to do. If you need additional support, a peer worker can help link you in with other forms of support.

Can peer workers help in an emergency?

A peer worker can’t provide emergency support. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000.

If you need immediate support, call a 24/7 crisis helpline such as:

Are chats with a peer worker confidential?

Peer workers will keep what you tell them confidential. They have a legal responsibility to keep everything you say private. Read more about confidentiality here.

The only exception to confidentiality is if you or someone else is at risk of serious harm. In this case, a peer worker might have to share information with a family member or emergency services.

If a peer worker decides they have to report something about you, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or don’t respect you. It’s actually the opposite: they will only do this to protect you or stop things from getting worse.

Where can I find a peer worker?

Peer workers often work in:

  • community health centres

  • hospitals

  • local health clinics

  • mental health organisations.

Depending on the organisation, you can chat with a peer worker online, over the phone or in person.

Want to chat with a peer worker?

ReachOut PeerChat connects you with a peer worker who can listen to you and provide support. Our peer workers have had their own experience with mental health challenges as young people. They are on their own journey to recovery and use their personal experience to support others. All our peer workers have undergone ReachOut training and have expertise in facilitating safe, respectful, non-judgemental conversations.

You can chat about whatever’s on your mind – no issue is too big or too small. Book a free, text-based session with ReachOut PeerChat here.

What can I do now?

  • Would you rather get support from an anonymous, online community? Check out the ReachOut Online Community and read about other young people’s experiences, or post your story.