Whether you are newly injured or have been in your wheelchair for years, the value of connecting with a mentor is priceless! A healthy relationship with a peer is one that is based on a sharing of experiences, mutual respect, and understanding. Peer support can be either a one-on-one or group relationship among individuals who share similar lifestyles and experiences. Mentors help others to build their own self-confidence or get through a difficult period of life by serving as role models, sharing experiences, and offering support.
My personal experience in connecting with peers was an empowering opportunity to acquire and share valuable mutual support skills. I now realize that my life is greatly enriched by friends that share my experience as a spinal cord injury survivor. I seek every opportunity I can to surround myself with others in wheelchairs. I just wish I had seen the value years ago.
Know the facts:
- Social support is associated with better health and functioning in individuals with SCI.
- Individuals with spinal cord injury report that their primary social concern is isolation and loss of social contact. This creates a renewed dependence of the survivor on his/her family.
- Find resources and get connected!
"Old timers" (like me, 38 years post injury) have information to share with those with newer injuries, and groups have more influence with vendors or medical professionals to present information and products. If there is not a support group in the area, people frequently ask how they can start one in their area. Here are a few ideas on how to start your very own support group:
- Identify two or three individuals who share your interest in starting (not simply joining) a support group. This will reduce the chance of burn-out if you have other people assisting you.
- Decide how often your group will meet. Try to hold a meeting once a month. You don't want to run the risk of losing momentum and focus.
- Decide on a central location. A rehab hospital can provide a good location, as many people already know where it is, and you will have access to large meeting rooms as well as professionals interested in SCI.
- Share! Share! Share! Start with Social Media. It is important to leverage all available media (especially free outlets).
Running and leading a meeting is a learned skill, so don't feel discouraged if you're not perfect at it. It helps to have someone available who has done this before, so ask around. This can be very rewarding and an important service to the community. Keep in mind, you will be helping people discover their strengths!