Peer Support Group: The Hidden Power

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a peer support group for separated fathers, run by the charity Dads Unlimited. It was a fascinating insight into the challenges that this mostly hidden community face; That is men facing isolation and loneliness, with mental health challenges that are difficult to speak about to friends and family, some with suicide ideation, and furthermore as domestic abuse victims – mostly that of coercive and controlling behaviour.

As the evening moved on, the group of men were able to open up about the challenges they faced – some similar, but many different and personal to their circumstances. It became clear that feelings of isolation and disconnect from our health and education institutions play a big part in making these fathers feel like secondary parents to the mothers.

But with the peer support in place, the group were able to openly discuss their emotions and feelings – and with excellent guidance from the Dads Unlimited mentor, Zachary, they discussed the natural feelings that occur around new beginnings and endings, and how the journey from an old intimate relationship to a new working relationship can help move the ex-couple to positive co-parenting in a child-centric way.

At Nest + Grow, we work to link together mental health, family support, children and young people, and social isolation. Support Groups are a powerful way to provide peer-led support which is more credible and accessible than an external practitioner-led support group. They are also an important first step in providing a gateway service that can help the supported groups to learn, understand, and access further support.

Through attending these groups, then men were then able to learn about one-to-one mentoring support, legal representation, counselling, training and community activities to help them with their own welfare and that of their children.

If organisations ensure that peer support groups are one of their core services, they can continue to ensure that the inclusion and participation of the groups they are set up to support remain at the core of their understanding and service development.