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Peer Support, Education, and Mentoring

by Martha Mitchell Funnell, MS, RN, CDE

If you want to learn how to become a peer mentor or group self-management support leader, your diabetes educator can help you find out how to get the training for that as well. Some programs have several months of training, while others are much shorter.

If you find a peer support program in your area that you think might be helpful for you, here are several questions you can ask to help you decide if this is the right group for you:

  • What is the main purpose of the group (education, support, or socializing)?
  • Is the group for people with all types of diabetes?
  • Who leads the group, and what kind of training does that person have?
  • Are there ground rules about keeping what is said in confidence?
  • Are family members invited to attend?
  • How often are meetings held?
  • What is expected of the group participants?

If there is nothing in your area, you might consider seeking support online. While there are many people who receive informal support online through blogs or message boards, there are more formal online programs as well. Some of these are monitored by experts in diabetes, while others are managed purely by people with diabetes. Some online programs are based on in-person programs that have been adapted. For example, the Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program is available online and in-person in some communities.

If there are no peer programs in your area but you believe that one would be helpful for you, you may want to start one. If you attend diabetes education classes, talk with others in the group to determine their level of interest in continuing to get together. You can also talk with your health-care team and ask if they know of others with diabetes who would be interested in taking part in this type of program. They may also be able to refer you to a training program. Remember that these programs take time to create and for the group to gain momentum, so you will need to be patient.

If you are not able to find a peer program and starting one is not appealing to you, you may want to identify someone with whom you can be a partner. As you attend diabetes education classes, a support group, or community events related to diabetes, look for someone you can relate to and ask that person if he would like to talk more about diabetes, either in person or by phone. This can start informally, by just getting to know each other, and then become more formalized. Another idea is to let your health-care team know that you are willing to be a partner or mentor to someone else who has diabetes. If you attend a group education or support program, ask the leader to bring up the idea of creating a peer partnership network or ask others in the group if they would like to talk about diabetes outside of the group.

As much as your family and friends want to help and do help, talking with someone who is on a similar journey can be a very positive experience for many people. By taking the initiative to look for peer support or to create a program in your community, you not only can ease the burden of diabetes in your own life, but you can also help to lighten the load of a fellow traveler.

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