A programme soon to start in Whanganui through Balance Aotearoa is PeerZone, a series of peer led workshops in mental health and addiction.

Leading the workshops are Carla Langmead, Sharron Elmer, David Mason and Nicole Whittaker, who have trained to be facilitators.

"We think it's pretty special what we are going to be doing here at Balance," says Carla. "This is about the community and something the community will benefit from. If I had to say in a nutshell what makes this different, we have support groups, but this is a professionally run and facilitated support group. This is certainly a first for Whanganui."

Sharon says, "We did the training a few months ago at the Quaker Settlement in Virginia Rd. Trainers from PeerZone go around the country training facilitators to run PeerZone workshops."

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PeerZone was developed in New Zealand by Mary O'Hagan and Sara McCook Weir.

"There's a whole lot of workshops we'll be making our way through, from coping with stress, maximising income, finding and keeping a home, well-being for young people, dealing to stigma, alcohol and drugs ... so it's a whole lot of workshops we have resources for and we can facilitate in the peer space," says Carla.

Sharon says, "It's for those who want to rebuild a positive story of their lives. It's for those who have gone through and are still going through some stresses and experiencing distress. They're actual workshops so participants or tangata whaiora actually participate in doing different activities to explore their own unwellness, and perhaps grab some tools out of that. And, like with anything, what you put into it is what you're going to get out of it."

Peer support is something we're going to be hearing more of, says Carla.
"It's a way of being in a relationship with somebody, which includes 'lived experience' because that's the thing that connects us, but that's just the part that forms the connection of the therapeutic relationship, and the rest of that relationship sits on some very clear principles that are specific to intentional peer support."
Carla says it's the mutuality that sets peer support apart from that of a clinical relationship.
"When people come to peer support here, that's where we meet them: peer to peer, equal to equal, and it's through the relationship that we're going to learn. That paradigm is very different to any clinical service, or even counselling."

Sharon says, "PeerZone is a doorway to explore. Our first workshop is 'understanding distress', so distress can come in many different ways. I look at the push at the moment within mental health and mental illness and mental distress, PeerZone fits as another place to come that's not clinical. How do we normalise what's happening for you so you feel supported and accepted?"

David says, "We have an opportunity here to enhance our community. When people take the time and have a look at some stuff through the programme, sometimes questions come out of that.
"We are there to support them with those questions outside of PeerZone, if they want to look at that. Because you come to one doesn't mean that's the end of the story; there can be more if you choose it. At Balance we work with the community and we network and bring things together."It's about not doing it alone."

Sessions are from 12.30pm-2.30pm on a Tuesday, beginning on April 17. Registration is essential. Phone 06 345 4488, text 021 262 8370 or email infobalancewhanganui.org.nz