Pay What You Can Peer Support

Pay What You Can Peer Support was founded by Daniel Cole, who kindly spoke with us about what peer support is and how this unique and easily accessible form of support can be a profound mental health resource. The Stigma-Free Society has recently partnered with Pay What You Can Peer Support to encourage all participants of the SFS’s Women’s Group to attend virtual groups at Pay What you Can Peer Support as SFS ceases offering peer support groups and moves into a new organizational model.

First of all, can you explain to us what peer support is and how it’s different from other types of mental health supports?

I’ll explain by what I think people ideally get from peer support: the realization that they’re not alone, and that there are others like them who suffer with what they suffer from. That there are others who have intrusive thoughts like they have, who have depression and anxiety, trouble getting out of bed, problems with their spouses, parents, children or friends. Who have feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, eating disorders, childhood trauma, you name it. And from that realization they feel better about their plight and at least not so alone in it. To know that someone else is going through or has gone through what you have can be therapeutic, relieving, joyous and de-stigmatizing. “And it’s something you just can’t get with one-on-one therapy”

As the Founder of Pay What You Can Peer Support, and how did this service come to be?

The service began in May 2020, but it was a nugget of an idea since 2015 when I had been a regular attendee at an OCD Peer Support Group in downtown Toronto. That group was in person and ran monthly. I loved going, but it conflicted with my beer league hockey schedule, so I would only go sparingly. But I saw what it did for others—to have that place where you could be with your community who understood you and are there for you to listen and to relate. I remember a participant telling us she was on a waiting list for 6 months for her university counsellor’s office, reflecting how excessively long waitlists are common for mental health concerns. “My own therapist was costing me over $200 CDN per visit, so I felt so grateful for the group which was free.”

But I also saw the limitations, in that it was only in-person, only in Toronto, only for OCD and only once a month. Also, once Covid hit, the group was permanently shut down. In 2019 I built an insurance website on Wix for a lot less than I would’ve figured, and come 2020 when the pandemic happened and our taxes were deferred, I decided to put everything together and build Pay What You Can Peer Support. And here we are almost 2 years later.

What is the value of being supported by a peer who has gone through a similar (but not necessarily the same) experience? Do all the moderators have lived experience?

It’s invaluable to know someone else has gone through or is going through the same thing as you. It makes you feel like you’re not alone, like you’re not crazy, like you can share with someone who “knows”.

Not all moderators have lived-experience, but the majority do. The moderators each share the quality of wanting to give back, to help, to be of support to those who can’t afford or access mental health care.

How do the peer support groups work? Do people have to attend every session or is it drop-in style?

The groups are drop-in style and meet once per week over Zoom. Group limits are set at 10 participants and some groups are fully booked, so people often book their spots for weeks ahead. Some examples of the groups we offer are: Anxiety and Stress; Managing Bipolar to Live Your Best Life; OCD & Obsessive & Intrusive Thoughts; Support for Mental Health Workers; Depression, Boredom and Loneliness; Eating Disorders; Grief: Death of a Child; ADHD Peer Support Group; Healing From Recovery and Trauma; and many more found HERE.

Can you talk about some of the values within peer support (such as avoiding patient-expert hierarchies) and why they are relevant to mental wellness?

“I think the best groups are the ones where the moderators simply listen and move the conversation along.” They don’t give too much “expertise,” but I also do see on the reviews that expertise is welcome. I personally believe the best value comes from fellow participants’ stories and struggles and solutions. Many participants have expressed how the groups have helped them get out of their homes, have more confidence, or do that thing they always wanted to do. And that’s what we’re here for.