It is often said that having friends or family around is good for our health. Being an active part of a community — laughing, talking and having reasons to be out and interacting with others — can all be positive side effects of social support. However, the benefits go even further than one might think.

Ongoing peer support from people with similar backgrounds or experiences is a key part of managing health. Unlike many health care workers, peers are in a unique position because they often share knowledge and experience of a health condition or diagnosis. This support is particularly useful in helping those managing chronic diseases like diabetes and mental health disorders.

What does a peer support worker do?

Peer support can help through four key functions:

Assistance in daily management — Those with a similar condition may have useful knowledge they have gained from their own experiences. For example, individuals living with diabetes may have useful knowledge on what to eat, remaining physically activity or regularly taking medication.

Social and emotional support — Members of a community that have lived similar life experiences can be particularly good at understanding day to day challenges. This can lead to better empathetic listening and encouragement. This kind of support can help people cope with social or emotional barriers and to stay motivated to reach their goals.

Linkages to clinical care and community resources — Peer supporters can connect individuals and health professionals and encourage them to seek out clinical advice or treatments when it is appropriate. They can also help in identifying key resources in the community, such as where to buy healthier foods or good locations or ways to be physically active.

Ongoing support, extended over time — Peer supporters successfully keep individuals engaged by providing proactive, flexible and continual long-term follow-up.

What does peer support look like?

Peer support can take many forms. It can be over the internet in community support groups or more individual-focused through phone calls or text messages. In-person support can be even better with things like home visits, going for walks or grocery shopping together. No matter what form it takes, peer support can improve the effectiveness of other health care services by creating the emotional, social and day-to-day support that helps managing a disease or staying healthy. Reach out to members of your community and medical providers to learn different ways you may be able to improve your access to peer support and get connected to others in your community.

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