This blog was taken from Dr. Brooke Bartlett’s webinar on Proactive Peer Support. To watch the full webinar, please click here.

Peer support programs within first responder agencies have great potential to bolster mental health, foster camaraderie, and offer vital assistance in navigating personal and professional challenges. However, these programs may encounter hurdles that hinder their effectiveness. Below, we discuss the key barriers to effective peer support initiatives.

Lack of Clarity in Program Structure and Personnel

Imagine inquiring about a peer support program and receiving vague responses like, “I think we have something like that,” or “There are people everyone talks to.” The absence of a clearly defined program or designated peer supporters can create ambiguity. When personnel aren’t aware of a formalized program that includes specific individuals serving as trained and vetted peer supporters, the program essentially becomes invisible, rendering it inaccessible when needed.

Unclear Protocols for Accessing Peer Support

Even if a program exists, knowing how to access it is paramount. Inadequate dissemination of information on how to contact peer support leads to underutilization. For many first responders, it’s already hard enough to reach out for help or admit that there is an issue. Lack of clarity about how to access peer support is an additional barrier that is often a major deterrent for many first responders. 

Insufficient Training for Peer Supporters

Formalized training for peer supporters is pivotal, not just for effectively aiding others but also for safeguarding the mental health of the supporters themselves. Without proper training, there’s a risk of blurring boundaries, confusion about roles, and inadvertently delving into areas beyond the scope of peer support. Formal training serves as a protective shield for both the supporters and those seeking support.

Role Confusion

Peer support isn’t a substitute for therapy; it’s about lending an empathetic ear and providing guidance, support, and resources. All too often,confusion that one’s role is to function as a therapist as opposed to a supporter arises due to improper and/or ambiguous training, or personal inclinations to solve problems directly. This confusion not only jeopardizes the efficacy of support but also leads to burnout and moral injury among supporters.

Discomfort in Seeking Support from Available Peers

Not all personnel feel comfortable confiding in the available members of a peer support team. Factors like hierarchical differences, ambitions for career progression, or personal preferences might deter individuals from seeking support from specific peer supporters, impeding the program’s accessibility.

Limited Utilization of Peer Support

Peer support might be underutilized if it’s only deployed in response to critical incidents or solely provided to individuals in distress. This could inadvertently create the message that peer support is only useful during times of crisis or when there is a serious issue. While peer support should most certainly be available during the aforementioned scenarios, it should also be a normalized resource that provides support and camaraderie for all types of situations and events. Restricting access to specific situations or individuals overlooks the potential for proactive support and limits its impact.

The Challenge of Initiating Support

For individuals grappling with issues, initiating a conversation for support can be daunting, especially when the peer support program lacks comprehensive and proactive deployment. The burden of taking the first step falls entirely on the individual, potentially dissuading many from seeking the help they need.

Addressing these barriers necessitates a multifaceted approach. Clear communication about the program, accessible protocols, comprehensive training, and emphasizing the distinct role of peer supporters are critical steps. Additionally, proactive deployment and destigmatizing seeking support can encourage broader utilization.

Effective peer support hinges on dismantling these barriers, fostering an environment where seeking and providing support is a normalized process that is  readily accessible to all personnel.

To learn more about Dr. Brooke Bartlett’s services visit:

To learn more why PeerConnect’s proactive model can change the way your organization offers Peer Support book a demo by clicking here.

Read Dr. Bartlett’s blog on Building and Effective Peer Support program here