Compeer is a friendship program offered by St Vincent de Paul Society. It is an internationally accredited, award winning, volunteer program that helps break down the stigma associated with mental illness, through friendship and support.
JULIE HILL (Compeer Program Co-ordinator): Compeer’s a friendship program for people who have a diagnosed mental illness, and so we recruit, screen, train and support volunteers who are matched with people referred to the program by their health professionals. So essentially the volunteers will make an initial 12 month commitment to meet weekly or fortnightly with a person referred to the program, and the idea is about breaking down the social isolation that so many people with mental illness experience. So we have various screening process and training for volunteers whereby we inform them about the different sorts of mental illness that people may be experiencing, and look at ways in which they can develop a friendship with people.
GREG HOGAN (Coordinator Ozanam Institute of Spirituality): It’s a one-on-one friendship program where people commit to four hours a month initially for a 12 month period and spend some time with people. It might be coffee or going to a footy match just something to provide some friendship to people.
JULIE HILL: The major benefit would be that people are less isolated. People are referred to the program because they want to be part of the program because they are looking for a friend and often their experience has been that because of the mental illness either their families haven’t sort of been able to cope, or they are still involved but their really the only people that they might have social contact with. So we find that a lot of people referred to the program actually have lost friends along the way because there’s been a lack of understanding about the illness and the way in which has impacted on their lives. So essentially it’s about being able to have someone who takes a special interest in them. Also just [someone who] does ordinary things that we do with our friends. I think sometimes we take for granted the fact that we’ve got someone to go out and have a coffee with, or go to a movie or go see the footy and often people if they are doing these sorts of activities are doing them on their own. So being part of the program means that they have someone they can share those activities with.
GREG HOGAN: We have I think 90 plus matches at the moment with more people volunteering and people with a mental illness coming on board to the program. [It] seems to be a very successful program.
JULIE HILL: Essentially volunteers come to the program because they have a desire to be able to help other people. Either they feel that they themselves have been quite fortunate, had lots of good luck and blessing along the way and they feel they’d like to be able to be a support to someone who’s maybe had a more difficult time of it. But in the process of the relationship developing I think the volunteers then find that they have made a friend. So they come to see the person not so much as someone with a mental illness but as a friend, who happens to have a mental illness; that there is much more to the person that they’ve been matched with than just the diagnosis of a mental illness. So I think that there’s the opportunity of just sort of developing your friendship and gaining your greater understanding of how the illness can impact on them. I think also the role provides people with an opportunity for personal growth. Like to be able to reflect on their own values and belief systems and the way they interact with people and I think that has a flow on effect in the rest of their lives. Because the program is relationship based it’s not task orientated so the role itself can throw up lots of challenges in terms on reflecting on how we communicate with people and knowing what our limits are, what our boundaries are. So there’s a lot to be gained.
If you want someone to love you, you must be the first to love; and if you have nothing to give, give yourself.
JULIE: There is a greater need for more mental health services in the community, there’s no doubt about it, and governments have a responsibility but governments can’t legislate friendship. And friendship is such an important part of our lives, an important part of our wellbeing our general wellbeing. I think that Compeer really provides an incredibly valuable opportunity for people to reach out to one another and makes friends.
NARRATOR: Compeer is a friendship program offered by St Vincent de Paul Society. It is an internationally accredited, award winning, volunteer program that helps break down the stigma associated with mental illness, through friendship and support.
The Compeer model is based on the simple premise that “friendship is powerful medicine” and that one, steady, reliable and caring companion can make all the difference, and bring joy and hope into a person’s life that may be empty for both.
The power of friendship can help someone isolated through mental illness to live a happier, more productive life.
Contact your State Council office regarding Compeer Programs in your State.