2022 saw progress and expansion of the Peer Working Group (PWG) which is hosted by e4c and the Wellness Network. The Peer Working Group is composed of a core group of seven people with lived experience (PWLE) of mental illness, addictions, and trauma who meet once monthly to brainstorm, engage, and participate in training sessions and opportunities.  Its members share a depth of practice and lived experience, co-creating co-facilitating workshops and wellness groups that fill gaps in the system. Peers from other organizations, or PWLE working in community, are invited to participate and join the Peer Working Group efforts.

A member of the Peer Working Group is a survivor of a suicide attempt and formed a sub-committee to establish a support group for people who have survived a suicide attempt. This group, now known as SASSY (Suicide Attempt Survivor Support YEG), meets once monthly on Wednesdays to learn from one another, find understanding, and build a support network. This support group formally launched in December 2022. One member of the group found the smaller setting comforting and reported feeling ‘so relieved’ that she could access 1:1 support from a peer with lived experience, creating a safe space for her to express herself. Through the creation of the SASSY sub-committee, and ongoing feedback from peers in the community, it was discovered that people were also interested in a Recovery College course for suicide attempt survivors, which will launch in February 2023.

“This [Peer Working Group] is really successful as we recognize everyone’s strengths, and we’re also really good at listening and pausing. We are building a heart-based approach. It’s really inspiring us to build strong communities.”

The curriculum for the SASSY recovery college course has been co-developed by a member of the Peer Working Group in collaboration with e4c. It was from this process that the need emerged for a peer support approach to facilitator skills training, recognizing that lived experience is integral to teaching such skills. A virtual training program was piloted in partnership with Luminate Wellness which allows facilitators to practice elements of a successful facilitation, mock up a workshop for delivery, and relies on their other peers to provide strengths-based feedback on their facilitation skills. This model goes back to the foundation of peer support and the creation of the Peer Working Group – supporting others in the community that do peer work.

It is from this mindset the Peer Working Group also began to work with 211 to develop an interactive map identifying peer-led and peer-created resources and services in the Edmonton area, helping others to navigate and discover resources, supports, and services available to them. This stems from ongoing conversations with people in the community whose feedback demonstrates a keen interest in connecting with others who share similar experiences.

“It’s about identifying other peer groups that are doing great work and educating us [as peer support workers] so that we can offer a robust resource network and support services to others.”

The Peer Working Group has recently initiated a relationship with the University of Alberta Faculty of Occupational Therapy & Rehabilitation, aiming to help provide peer-led career navigation and stabilization support to individuals living with persistent mental illness. The Peer Working Group is developing strategies to support those living with mental illness to find and maintain employment, and to work with employers to provide wellness and mental health resources to help employees maintain a high rate of success in their jobs. This new initiative is meant to empower peers to help support PWLE to obtain and maintain employment, and the resources developed will be included in an emerging peer website being developed by the PWG to.

“The PWG has provided us with a space to speak, share experiences, and feelings. I’m really looking forward to what we’ll come up with next.”