Though peer support might be a new concept for you, it has a history spanning decades. One of the first formal peer support programs began in 1854 in London, England. However, peer support really started to gain attention in North America in the 1960s and 1970s.
Today we generally have good services for those struggling with mental health and substance use issues (though some people certainly fall through the cracks), but this hasn’t always been the case. In the past people struggling with mental health and substance use issues have experienced extremely poor conditions, as well as horrible mistreatment from those who were supposed to provide support and services. Until the 1960s, it was common for people to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals indefinitely for things like depression and anxiety.
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great change in North America. Many people were dissatisfied with broken social systems, and came together to challenge them. Youth and young adults – many of them university and college students – were often at the forefront of these movements, leading protests and making change.
This time saw the emergence of many important movements including:
- the Civil Rights movement
- Feminist movement, fighting for the rights of women
- Industrial workers movement
- Gay liberation movement
- Disability justice movement
- Anti-war movements
The psychiatric ex-patient movement was also born in this era, and was the start of peer support as we know it today. This movement has grown and influenced mental health systems in Canada and the U.S.. Because a collective of people spoke up about injustices and fought for change, today the mental health service people receive is a lot better than it once was. One of the mantras that came out of these movements is “Nothing About Us Without Us.”
“Nothing About Us Without Us,” a term born out of the disability movement, and it became a mantra for the peer support movement. Historically people who receive services have been left out of the decision making process by people in charge. “Nothing About us Without Us” is an important mantra that urges governing bodies to include people who receive services in every aspect of governance and decision making that impacts them.
It is very important as a participant in peer support that you know you are a part of something big and significant. It is an honour to be a part of this collective global movement.