Peer support more important than ever

Friday 3 September, 2021
Mark Halden
Mark Halden is the deputy co-ordinator of GMW's Peer Support Network.

Are you really okay?

That is the question Australians are being encouraged to ask their family, friends and colleagues on R U OK? Day on Thursday, September 9.

At Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW), it’s no different, and it happens year-round.

During the past 13 years, GMW has provided a valuable support system to employees outside of the traditional counselling services through its Peer Support Network.

GMW customer relationship coordinator Mark Halden is one of 25 trained peer support volunteers who provides a safe space for workmates to discuss their issues without judgement.

“Contacts can range from a brief one-off chat giving guidance on steps they can take to resolve their matter through to more lengthy multiple catch-ups where direction as to where professional assistance can be obtained and sought,” he said.

“In most cases, we make a follow up and check-in to see how things are going and, in some cases, professional assistance was sought.”

Mr Halden, who lives in Tongala, joined the peer support network in 2013, undertaking three days qualification training with a psychologist with a particular focus on mental health and related issues.

“I joined the peer support network having the desire to help others and knowing I have been part of the process in overcoming their struggles in times of need,” he said.

Now deputy co-ordinator, Mr Halden can at times receive a couple of contacts per week from colleagues asking for support on a wide variety of issues, including career matters, family stresses and the personal strain of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is affecting the community in many ways, from financial strain of job losses and business decline, managing home schooling through to loneliness due to isolation from family and friends,” he said.

“Trained peer support volunteers understand it’s okay not be okay and know the importance being available to support you in times of need. Also, now more than ever, we need to be kind and tolerant to others because we don’t know what they’re going through.”

GMW People, Culture and Safety General Manager Glenda Smith said the peer support program was well used.

“During 2020/21, the team, co-ordinated by Scott Wikman, one of our Storages senior managers, dealt with 463 contacts to help staff with a range of issues,” she said.

“While it doesn’t take the place of traditional counselling, this peer support does complement that service and is often the first step in someone seeking assistance.

“For GMW, the network is a preventative tool fostering good mental health and in a time of crises provides ongoing support for recovery.”