Buddying for mental health support protocol

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This protocol is a draft. It has not yet been accepted as protocol and may be incorrect or poorly cited. Please do not use this in your work until it has been accepted.

Please see #protocols on Slack to discuss this protocol further.

This protocol should be used alongside the Mental Health Intervention Protocol.

Supporting someone who is in distress is often emotionally and/or physically draining, especially since this work often happens over extended periods of time and at night.

Whenever and wherever possible, you should work with a buddy.

Buddies enable us to

  • check each other’s work
  • bring different ideas and experiences to the situation
  • take breaks and check in on each other
  • helps reduce burnout and isolation

There are a few different ways to work with a buddy, including in person, virtual, no-PII, 'back channel'. This protocol explains each of these. It’s important to remember that there is not a single correct way to buddy and the type of buddying you do will largely depend on your situation.

Kinds of buddying vary in terms of active involvement and time. Sometimes someone may be able to commit to being present for a specific amount of time, or ‘on call’ even if not actually present.

Set up of buddies

The ideal format for doing most mental health support is in a group of three people. This is because:

  • One person can leave to take a break/sleep/get food/etc, whilst still maintaining a buddy pair who can check each other's work and make sure the person in distress is safe.
  • This format can be replicated for virtual care, which is done online, over messaging or video call apps - a group chat or call with two or three carers as well as the person experiencing distress is less likely to lead to burnout among the carers.
  • However, we recognise that this is not always easy or possible, but the risks that may come without it should be considered, especially if you are doing intense, ongoing care.
  • If this isn’t possible, you may still be able to get support from another person who is not directly involved in the situation, by ‘no-PII buddying’ or ‘boundary buddying’.

In person buddying

This often means all buddies being there in person with the person you are caring for.

You may also/alternatively meet up with your buddy in person to talk about what you are doing and debrief.

Due to Coronavirus, this is not as possible at the moment as it usually would be.

Virtual buddying

This can take the form of having multiple people in a group chat or video/phone call together with the person experiencing distress.

This can be especially helpful with virtual care if you feel that you have to be ‘on call’ at all times, as you know that someone else is around and can respond to urgent messages.

If one person is supporting someone face to face, they may also have their buddy ‘on call’ via phone call or text.

There can be many different variations on all these setups, for example buddies may be in person together but providing care virtually.

No-PII virtual buddying

If you are doing care work (in person or online) where you are not able to have usual buddies or your buddy is unavailable, no-PII buddying is a good way to access support.

No-PII means No Personally Identifiable Information. This means you do not share any information with your buddy which could identify the person you are caring for. This includes their names, address, job, school, etc.

You might share what you are doing (in non-identifying terms), have it as a space to vent, the person buddying can send you funny memes/similar, help look things up if you need (eg. find resources), and other forms of support.

No-PII buddying is a good way to access support without someone needing to be briefed and becoming an ‘official’ buddy for any work, which is less of a commitment for them and for the people you are caring for.

‘Backchannel' buddying/'boundary' buddying

Lots of people who do care can sometimes struggle with their own boundaries.

Some people find it helpful to have discussions or state what your boundaries are to someone who's not involved in the care.

If it’s helpful, your buddy may be able to give you a ‘nudge’ if they are aware that you are struggling with upholding boundaries that you have previously communicated with each other.

Having a boundary checklist (working time boundaries, boundaries for different kinds of care, personal boundaries on how you do care) can be helpful. A good way to do this is to work through creating your checklist with your backchannel/boundary buddy.

This type of buddy will likely not be involved in the care for a specific person, but you can check in regularly and have general debriefs about all the care you are doing with them.

It should be noted that these are just a few examples of ways of buddying. There are many variations on these setups and there may be other types of buddying that are more appropriate to different situations.

Finding a buddy

Sometimes buddies will be created organically, for example, if multiple friends are supporting someone having a crisis together. However, sometimes you will need to actively reach out for a buddy

  • Many people struggle to reach out for buddies/support because other people they would reach out to are also doing lots of care or struggling themselves. This can lead to isolation and burnout. The impulse to hide this from other people doing care can add more stress. To mitigate the feeling that you’re burdening other people, it can be helpful to write down exactly what type of buddying might be helpful and explicitly state that there is not an obligation to buddy when reaching out to a specific person.
  • You may also feel like no one else does similar care to you so it would be unhelpful to have a buddy, or can feel like a buddy would not understand the situation and you would end up feeling more isolated. However, it can still be helpful to get other people’s perspective, experience and ideas on what you are doing even if there does not seem to be anyone who can fully PII buddy you.

In person buddy

To request an in-person buddy, send a message to the relevant ‘QC Advocacy & Care Dispatch’ signal group chat (e.g. ‘QC London Advocacy & Care Dispatch 18+’ or ‘QC London Advocacy & Care Dispatch 13-19’).

In this message you should explain in brief and non-identifiable terms what the situation is, and what level of involvement/commitment is needed from a buddy.

Virtual buddy & no-PII buddy

To request a virtual buddy, send a message on the relevant ‘QC Virtual Care Buddying’ signal group chat (either ‘QC Virtual Care Buddying 18+’ or ‘QC Virtual Care Buddying 13-19’).

It is helpful to include in your message the type of buddying you need, whether it is regular or a one-off, PII or no-PII, what you are looking for from a buddy (for example, is it to discuss the care/ advocacy, to spam you with memes, to chat as a distraction, or something else?).

‘Backchannel buddy/boundary buddy’

Within QueerCare there is a buddy system where you can be buddied with someone for regular check ins/’vent’ space/ backchannel buddying. To request this, message @Amal (for ages 18+) or @finn (for ages 13-19) on Slack.

Beginning to work with a new buddy

When first working with a buddy, it’s good to have an initial discussion with your buddy so that you both understand the situation and arrangement, and get to know each other.

You should discuss:

  • what care you are doing and how you’re doing it
  • boundaries you have
  • specific skills or resources that you do or don't have (eg. if you can drive, bulk cook, etc)
  • how you prefer to communicate (for example, Signal messenger, WhatsApp, phonecall, Zoom video call)
  • how regularly you will check in with each other

Confidentiality: It is really important to keep the personal details of people you are caring for, including details of issues they are facing, confidential. This means you must not discussing the exact situation with anyone other than your (PII) buddies, unless the person you’re supporting has given you explicit permission to do this.

You also need to be clear about what the person is willing for you to discuss with your buddies. This should be part of a conversation about boundaries.