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What is online peer support and who is a peer in SHaRON?

Online Peer support in health care is where people with shared experiences, characteristics or circumstances support each other to improve their health and well-being. This is true in SHaRON.

A peer can be someone with similar health conditions to you, with a similar background or from a similar community.

For example, in Perinatal SHaRON the service users are all female, have given birth and have had issues with mental health often diagnosed with post-natal depression.

However the support they give and receive from each other is extremely varied and is focused on how to be a mother, partner, family member and be suffering from a mental health issue. This can vary from problems with sleep, medication, attending toddler groups, feeling of isolation or other stressful life events such as moving house or employment issues. With a large cohort of service users there is always someone who has these shared experiences both emotional and practical.

Peer support also appears to have a beneficial impact on the peer offering support. Our service users report a positive feeling of wellbeing knowing they are able to support other women even when they are still struggling themselves.

One of the strengths of SHaRON is the anonymity of our service users to each other on the site. This means women can be honest about how they are feeling. The culture on the site is one of mutual support and is non-judgemental.

As SHaRON is an online support platform open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year women are able to access support when they need it. There is no having to wait for the weekly postnatal depression support group. They may post at 2am and there maybe no-one else on line but our service users report posting how they feel is cathartic in itself and they know they will have a response from other service users the very next morning.

The same applies to SHaRON CAMHS for parents and carers with children with Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) or those waiting for an ASC assessment.

Parents are often left following a GP referral to CAMHS with very little information and no support other than a helpline number.

On SHaRON these parents and carers, again anonymously, can tell their story exactly as it is. Parents who have been through the process can share their experiences and thereby share the hope that although there may be no cure for autism there are many strategies to be learnt, helpful reference books to read and local specialist support services to help. Again all of this online and available 24/7. A parent can post about her struggles with getting a child dressed for school, the meltdowns and the feelings of frustration and guilt. Other parents respond with comments of compassion, understanding and share what they have tried and may have helped.

SHaRON uses service user feedback to continue to develop the site. This feedback is from one of them about the question of forming online relationships for peer support.

“I think there are some really interesting opposing views about online relationships, in terms of whether they foster real connection or whether they are a poor alternative to “real” relationships.  My view, based on SHaRON and other experiences would be that the connections formed online are just as real and meaningful to people as face to face relationships, and support their wellbeing in the same way. “

The final statement is from another service user says it all:

“Being on SHaRON means you may feel lonely and isolated. You go online and know there will be an understanding listening ear. They understand because they have or are going through exactly the same as me!”

SHaRON was developed by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust an NHS Global Digital Exemplar.

These organisations have the most advanced IT in the NHS and have committed to work to become world class exemplars for the rest of the NHS to learn from.