My experience from joining the group was a positive one. It was nice to meet with other people with spinal injuries to talk n share experiences with. I found being a part of the group improved my mental health as I had somewhere I could go every week and mix with others who I could relate to. I often feel isolated and alone living in a small village as I hardly leave the house so going to the group gave me independence and the confidence, I could leave the house alone. Since then, we have all joined a WhatsApp group we can still keep in touch which has had a positive effect on me. I now realise I’m not on my own and I’ve met a wonderful group of people I can always talk to which as always there to talk to.
I facilitated a peer support group of spinal-cord injured people for Dr Thomas. The group comprised of male and female tetraplegics and paraplegics. The original peer support group was developed out of the need for an intervention that would help people with SCI gain valuable knowledge from their peers and to share their own experiences all whilst being in a safe place. There were eight closed sessions where no able-bodied people were allowed except for guest speakers who were professionals in the world of SCI. Each guest speaker would talk for 40 minutes answer some questions and then leave. This encouraged the members of the group to engage with each other and swap information and stay in touch after the eight-week period. It was a pleasure to see people with SCI grow from the experience and improve their own quality of life by learning from the shared experience and knowledge of their peers. I have stayed in touch with most of these people and have seen them go from isolation to jobs and university. I as a qualified peer support officer and facilitator recommend anyone who is suffering in silence or lacking knowledge of SCI or wheelchair use signing up for a peer support group and attending. ADAPT Gateway is the only organisation offering free peer support groups and who will continue to support you throughout life as a wheelchair user.
As an Exercise Physiologist I have previously been involved in the delivery of a peer support intervention for individuals with spinal cord injuries. I have knowledge of adapted physical activity and have worked in the broad area of disability sport and physical activity for more than 20 years. The closed support group consisted of 8 individuals who had different levels of injury, including para- and tetraplegia. There was also considerable variability between individuals in time since injury. A member of the group was a high performing paraplegic athlete who, unintentionally, served as an excellent facilitator, able to provide context to others based upon his considerable lived experience. The session consisted of me raising awareness of the participants of the effect of paralysis on reduced function and independence. Other topics covered included the reduction in daily energy expenditure and an outline of feasible modes of exercise that could be pursued
When I was in hospital after my injury, I met Tony, who then was working as a peer support mentor with the SIA, and we kept in touch. A couple of years later Tony contacted me to let me know about an exciting new idea Dr Gareth Thomas had – he was planning to facilitate a number of peer support sessions alongside Cardiff Metropolitan University and invited me to take part in these. I have always felt strongly that peer support is a very important part of dealing with disability and so happily accepted this offer; I found it incredibly helpful to be able to talk with those who have had similar experiences and know what it’s like to experience disability resulting in long term wheelchair use. For me, nothing equals being able to listen to the ideas of those with more experience in this area; it’s imperative to improving physical and mental health after becoming disabled. It helped me talk and deal with issues such as fitness, mental health in relation to dealing with disability, personal care, and really improved my self-esteem and confidence. I have kept in touch with many people I met through this initiative, and some have become very good friends who I always feel I can go to if I am having any issues. This experience was incredibly valuable for me, and I am now very excited to be able to help others in a similar situation to that I found myself in. It would not be an exaggeration to say that peer support considerably improved my quality of life, and I am really looking forward to being able to provide this opportunity to those who could benefit from it through ADAPT Gateway.