Andrew is a peer connecting volunteer

‘You are going to be a cheerleader for an adult experiencing some challenges with their mental health’.

That was the hook that made me want to volunteer for a peer connecting role with the Peer Connecting service provided by Health in Mind. I saw it as an opportunity to be myself and play a supportive role, someone who would sit and listen and let the person I was matched with offload whatever was buzzing them. Anyone looking on when we were together would simply observe two blokes shooting the breeze in a café at the West End.

Ok, so you don’t actually get issued with any pom poms which is a great shame; and the training does not involve having to learn the Health in Mind cheerleading songs and dance moves (a big relief!); but through the programme you do learn to see how even the smallest of connections or interactions can have such a positive and impactful effect on an individual who is experiencing mental health difficulties. And as you both build the relationship and create a history of shared activities the cheerleading itself becomes more connected and natural.

You are matched with an individual for an agreed period of six months. With the help of the support worker from Health in Mind, you decide what would be the best activities and routines for the person you have been matched with. Although not his real name, I will call my ‘match’ Scott. He was in the same age bracket as myself so we found we could easily chat about music, fashion, movies, football and growing up in Edinburgh. Scott was quite isolated and sometimes struggled to leave his flat. We initially agreed to meet up at the West End for a brew and a chat and to give Scott the excuse and impetus to get out.

After our meetings he was always keen to agree the time and day of our next meet up. We attended a sleep mindfulness class being run in one of the community hubs in the city together. I was really chuffed when I saw that he arrived before me and had gone into the centre and was already talking to another attendee. The class was really good and we both agreed it had been beneficial. Mind you, we both fessed up two weeks later that neither of us had done our follow up homework. Pom poms hung in shame.

Scott had a good humour and on a 1-1 basis answered my probing questions like; how did your football team lose that game? How was the lasagne dinner you had prepared? Did you manage to fix the clock that fell off the wall? Such were the cliff-hangers our follow up meetings hung on.

Our six months came to its natural end just as the Covid restrictions began in March last year. We didn’t get to ‘sign off’ and I didn’t get to hand back my pom poms, but I hope our matching helped Scott in some small way. For me it was both a privilege and a humbling experience to be able to provide support to a fellow human. So if you have ever fancied being a cheerleader, just go for it. Your friends and family and perhaps even a stranger will really appreciate the support and maybe even the dance moves too!

You can help a peer connector like Andrew make a positive and impactful difference to someone by Sponsoring a Connection.