“By the time you come out of that first meeting, you know you’ve been sitting with someone who has been through what you’re going through and who now has a job, who can function well in the world, and you will have heard from them the strategies that have got them through those hurdles. When working with people who are unwell, we sometimes forget they can live hopeful, empowered, directed kinds of lives.”
New Zealand is a leader in the recovery approach, says University of Canterbury senior lecturer in sociology Anne Scott. There’s less stigma surrounding mental illness here, she says, and “a lot more willingness to accept mental illness as a normal part of life”. Most district health boards fund some form of peer support, whether it be Kaupapa Maori peer support, the Mind and Body model, intentional peer support as used by bipolar support services, or one of a number of in-house models.
The goal of all these services is not to offer top-down solutions but to support people as they build on their own strengths to find a way forward. “This means making plans, identifying triggers and early warning signs, and putting in place mechanisms to quell the triggering,” says Bipolar Support Canterbury manager Frances Caldwell. “A lot of people are stuck in a revolving door in and out of hospital. They’re distressed, lonely, stuck in their homes. Having that daily stuff in place keeps us well, even if it’s just going for a walk every day or putting things in place for when you are unwell.