Peer Lead Support in the Community

Counseling is a great resource for navigating life challenges, healing from past wounds, and maintaining mentally well practices; however, counseling is not always an accessible tool. Sometimes finances, access, or therapist compatibility can be a barrier to receiving the care one needs. There is no replacement for therapy but engaging with others in your community who also struggle with mental health and can listen and empathize with you can be powerful. Heart Support and Peer Support Space are two examples of this in our digital world and locally in Orlando.

Heart Support Fest just had it’s first year ever debuting in Orlando. It was a primarily metal core music festival that took place over two days at the Orlando Amphitheater. Jake Luhrs, a frontman for one of the bands performing (August Burns Red) states “Our goal with heart support is to create a high-energy festival experience and bring the mental health conversation to the forefront of the festival community”. They had mental health seminars where people spoke about their experiences and several bands brought that topic to the stage during their performances. Jake highlights how there is power in community which is why he started Heart Support. Jake states “I’ve toured the world sharing a message of hope, struggle, adversity and things I’ve experienced in my own life. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time after shows connecting with fans over these years.  Sharing mutual struggles with addiction, abuse, and forgiveness.”

Heart Support is a community of people who care. They are not counselors or therapists or mental health professionals and their goal is to show love to people who are struggling with mental illness. Their mission statement is “We’re just regular people who want to love, accept, and encourage people to live with a purpose. We’re encouraging a community that does life TOGETHER”. Heart support is meant to be viewed as a family of people who love and accept you no matter what, encourage each other to keep moving forward in our mental health, help give support to vent struggles or victories, or encourage yourself to continue to take steps to helping yourself. Heart Support is a completely online resource which means it excels in accessibility. They have live streams and are on discord and they have in person meet ups at music festivals and conventions as well so keep an eye on for when they are in your area! They have an anonymous online forum which you can engage in and they state you’ll receive encouragement within 24 hours. You can talk to people all over and listen to their stories too about their mental health struggles and wins. You deserve to feel supported!

Peer Support Space is another great resource for individuals to gather and uplift one another. It is a space “led for and by those with lived experience and their loved ones. All of our services and advocacy initiatives are led for and by those the services are intended for.” They specifically focus on helping “Black, Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQ+, disabled folks, and other communities that show statistically higher rates of mental health challenges and/or lack of access to affordable and accessible mental wellness options that practice cultural humility.” They recognize how it is okay to not be okay and being in a space of nonjudgement and empathy can be powerful for feeling heard, seen, and validated. Peer support space has both zoom and community-based meetings for accessibility. They “help all individuals (18+) while focusing on communities that are historically underserved or that are disproportionately met without quality mental health services.”

Umberson and Montez’s study on social relationships found both quality and quantity affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Social relationships have short and long term effects on health. The “emotional support provided by social ties enhances psychological well-being” which can be an antecedent for reducing maladaptive coping. The World Health organization identifies mental health as a core dimension of overall health status.

When we connect with others we practice vulnerability which is scary, but rewarding as we are able to build relationships with those around us to create the type of emotional support we need in our lives. We deserve social support and community regardless of how mentally well we are feeling. Resources like Heart Support and Peer Support Space are important for making support accessible. We have suffered from social neglect after spending so much of 2020 inside, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue on that way. 2020 also opened up many doors for digital connections that we can now capitalize on to continue to bring together communities of people who can support each other, listen to each other, and validate each other’s experiences.

Humans are not meant to be islands. We are intended to build a community of people around ourselves to support ourselves and vice versa. We are allowed to ask for help and are worthy of accepting help when it is given. Social Support is not a replacement for therapy; however, it is an indicator of increased positive health outcomes in life overall. I would encourage you to engage with Heart Support or Peer Support Space if this blog resonated with you! If you would like to meet with a counselor and pursue your mental health journey, awesome! Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced and supportive mental health counselors.



Arielle Teets