Kia ora! I'm Kip and I've been a peer supporter (and the queer and neurodivergent representation) at Life Matters coming up three years now.
Being a peer supporter has been one of the best experiences of my life here in Dunedin, and a huge privilege. I have been able to meet people who I never would have otherwise, and the trust you are given as a peer supporter, for people to tell you their life stories, and to be a safe space for them is an absolute honour. As one of the queer peer supporters here at Life Matters, I often support my fellow T’s in the alphabet soup community (alphabet community being the LGBTQ+ community. The T standing for transgender). In a world where our identities and rights are debated, it can be really hard to feel safe, even in places where you’re supposed to, like the health system. Being able to provide a safe space for trans people to talk about mental health, or stupid everyday things about being queer, and advocating for our community is one of my favourite things about working at Life Matters.
Outside of the Hope Centre, I'm a psychology postgrad student, currently aiming to become a counsellor. Peer support training and working in this field has been an invaluable experience for preparing to work in mental health: the challenges people face in accessing help and the issues in the mental health system, and how to help navigate someone through those metaphorical hoops. There is a huge shortage of spaces for people to go to when they need help, and even more so, there is a huge shortage of knowledge in how to access them. It’s a fairly common experience to feel like you know you need help, but don’t know where to go to get it. While the Hope Centre doesn’t provide things like professional counselling, we’re a safe place to help direct you to organisations that can provide things like that, and listen to you and keep you safe while you wait.
That's kind of the beauty of peer support: it’s not therapy, its people who have struggled in the past with mental health, with bereavement, with life in general, creating an inclusive and safe space for people who are in the same situations to talk about it. It’s about our community loving on and supporting our own. I think the biggest thing that being a peer supporter has taught here are no magic words to fix things but being there to walk with someone or listening to them-it feels small but often- it’s exactly what people need.