Peer Designer Blog
In June, Heather interviewed members of Mind's online communities Elefriends and Friends in Need as part of her work as a Peer Designer. She was talking to members of the community in order to find out what's working well and ways the sites could work even better.
In this blog, Heather tells us about what it was like to be both a community member and Peer Designer and what she enjoyed about interviewing members of the community. She also shares a few surprising things she learnt along the way!
What interested you about the role?
Peer-led research and mental health support are two things I feel really passionate about so it made sense for me to get involved in a project that combined the two. I also really enjoy getting to know people and hearing about their experiences, which is a big part of being a Peer Designer. Lastly, I wanted the chance to give something back to the communities which have helped me so much, and I thought this would be a great way to do that.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite parts of the process?
I really enjoyed conducting the interviews and getting to hear about other people's experiences was one of my favourite parts of the process. There was a lot of diversity when it came to users' experiences - people joined the site for a wide range of reasons and they sometimes used the site very differently from me. This made my job as a Peer Designer incredibly interesting. It got me thinking about the site in ways I hadn't before and gave me a deeper appreciation for the diversity in our community.
My favourite part of the process was attending the workshops in London. The workshops were where we got all the peer designers, the mind team, and stakeholders together to talk about the research. We got to compare our findings, share what worked and what didn't, and bounce ideas off each other. It was really satisfying to see everything come together - it felt like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Everyone who attended the workshops was amazing and I appreciate how much we accomplished as a team. We got a lot of valuable work done at the workshops, but we also had a lot of laughs, good food, and fun.
Have there been any challenges about being a Peer Designer?
Balancing my own mental health struggles while working as a Peer Designer could be challenging at times. Although I enjoyed the process overall, hearing about others' struggles was sometimes tough. Fortunately, the Mind team was extremely supportive and understanding throughout the process. Having regular check-ins and flexible working hours helped me manage my well-being and my workload.
There were also quite a few technical challenges along the way. Some of the interviews were conducted over Skype, which can be temperamental at times, and I was worried my WIFI was going to go out at any moment (It did, once, but not for long!). Going with the flow and having a laugh about it afterward went a long way in remedying those challenges.
Was there anything that surprised you during the process?
After being an Elefriend for so long, it was a bit of an odd experience meeting the team behind the site, and that surprised me. I wasn't expecting it to change the way I looked at the site as much as it did. Before I became a Peer Designer I hadn't given much thought to what goes on 'behind the scenes', but now I've met the team I think I've got a better understanding of what it's like.
The passion and generosity of everyone who took part also surprised me. While I already knew how kind and helpful Elefriends and Friends In Need users could be from time spent on the sites, I was still wowed by how much time and effort the research participants put in. Everyone I spoke to was to was dedicated to helping us, helping others and making the site a better place.
What would you tell somebody else that was interested in being a peer designer?
Go for it! It's an amazing opportunity. You get the chance to meet some fantastic people and make a real difference. Mind does a great job of making people feel welcomed and supported - so it's worth giving it a go even if you're feeling nervous or doubtful.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your role as a Peer Designer?
I'd just like to say how much I'm looking forward to seeing how Elefriends and Friends In Need will change and grow over the next few years. Although I sometimes find change daunting, being a Peer Designer has allowed me to see how much thought is going into these changes, and that's made me feel hopeful and excited about the future of Elefriends and Friends In Need.
Find out more about the project and why Heather was interviewing the community here.