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Creating change as a Peer Researcher

Fulfilling Lives Newcastle & Gateshead has recently worked with a team of peer researchers to evaluate the Together in a Crisis (TiaC) programme. TiaC is a proof of concept led by Mental Health Concern which aims to provide a supportive recovery process for people with an urgent but non-clinical mental health need. Here, one of our peer researchers, Sheila, talks about how she got involved with our research team.

I’m Sheila and I’m a peer researcher evaluating Together in a Crisis.  After a series of unfortunate events I had a mental health crisis, which led to me getting involved with organisations that help people with mental health and other issues, and last year I was asked to join a peer research group because of my lived experience. I was excited at the prospect of being able to have an impact on a service that helps people in similar situations that I have been in.

Becoming a peer researcher involved taking part in a course to gain a peer research skills qualification. I completed my Peer Research Skills course along with four other peer researchers. The course was fascinating and as it progressed the group dynamics became fundamental to the outcome. With our individual experiences and our biases becoming apparent we discussed scenarios trying to look at these objectively to develop our research skills.  We’re a good mix of people with different experiences and have been supported throughout the project: there’s someone with you, you’re not alone.

“I was excited at the prospect of being able to have an impact on a service that helps people in similar situations that I have been in.”

We worked with the Research and Evaluation Lead at Fulfilling Lives Newcastle & Gateshead to meet the various criteria such as: understanding peer research, research ethics, the research framework and interview skills, analysis and finally, putting it all together to complete a research project.  We had a lot of fun during this time, with interview practice, creating questions for each other and looking at our own biases.

We are now working on the evaluation of Together in a Crisis supported by a lead researcher from Mind Fuel and with ongoing support from Fulfilling Lives.  We started by discussing the aim of the research project, what needed to be completed, and when the project needed to be completed by.  It was during these sessions that we needed to break all of the ideas we had and our aims for the project down to one ultimate research question that we could use to focus our interviews. We also looked at how we were going to find participants that would be interested in taking part in the research, how and where the interviews would be carried out.

“Peer research is really interesting as it’s looking at answering a research question that we as mental health service users have an insight into: we have experience of similar services so we have been able to shape relevant research questions.”

At the moment we are analysing our data: we have carried out interviews and have gleaned rich qualitative data from our participants about their experiences of Together in a Crisis. We have decided that each peer researcher will write up their own sections of the report, which will then be integrated to form the final evaluation report.   

I have loved being involved with the peer research group, it’s given me a chance to evaluate a service that is helping other people.  I am currently studying for GCSEs and I talked about peer research in my English exam.  Peer research is really interesting as it’s looking at answering a research question that we as mental health service users have an insight into: we have experience of similar services so we have been able to shape relevant research questions.

I feel so proud of what our little group has achieved, it shows that we all have something to give back.  It’s taking our experience and using our collective knowledge, not just “the professional’s” idea of what it is like, to help improve a service or to create a new service for others who are in similar situations to us.