Self Help and Peer Support

Self-Help and Peer Support

Self-help and peer support are key elements of recovery for many people with mental illness. Self-help involves people coming together on the basis of common experiences to draw upon their own strengths to help themselves and one another.1 Self-help groups can help people cope with mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia. Some groups form to provide support for people with similar life experiences, such as women survivors of trauma or people who have survived the death of a loved one by suicide.

Consumer/survivor organizations have developed in Ontario on the basis of self-help values. Consumer/survivor organizations run traditional self-help groups but they can also focus on public issues. They advocate for improvements in the mental health system and for the rights of people with mental illness. Through consumer/survivor initiatives, people can develop new skills and learn about resources and supports available to them in the mental health system.

Consumer/survivor initiatives also include “alternative businesses.” These businesses are run entirely by consumer/survivors on the principles of community economic development. They focus on developing employment opportunities by working together as a group, and emphasize training, mentoring, skills development and peer support. Employees participate in decisions affecting the business.2

Self-help groups are also offered by mainstream mental health organizations. Many CMHA branches across Ontario run self-help groups. Some mental health agencies and services also employ consumers as peer support workers.

The values of self-help and peer support are promoted by consumers from a diversity of racial, ethnic and cultural groups. The original funding for consumer/survivor initiatives in Ontario mandated that groups specifically facilitate the involvement of people from francophone and ethnocultural backgrounds. Self-help groups and consumer/survivor initiatives have developed outreach to newcomer and marginalized ethnoracial communities.

Research on self-help, peer support, consumer/survivor initiatives and alternative businesses has shown that these models help people improve their lives and recover from mental illness.


  1. Canadian Mental Health Association (2004), A Framework for Support,
  2. Ontario Coalition of Alternative Businesses (2002), Working for a Change: A Handbook for Alternative Business Development.

Find Self-Help and Peer Support Services and Supports

  • Self-Help and Peer Support Services, CMHA, Ontario branches
  • Peer/Self-Help Initiatives in Ontario, Mental Health Service Information Ontario
  • Family Initiatives in Ontario, Mental Health Service Information Ontario
    Includes self-help and peer support groups for family members.
  • Ontario Peer Development Initiative
    OPDI promotes the uniqueness and worth of peer support and consumer/survivor organizations.
  • Ontario Council of Alternative Businesses
    The Coalition is a provincial organization that supports existing alternative businesses and helps create new business opportunities for people who have been through the mental health system. The council has also produced a number of reports, handbooks and films on the values of alternative businesses.
    1499 Queen Street West, Suite 203, Toronto, O
    Tel: 1-866-504-1693 or 416-504-1693
    (Website currently under development)
  • Ontario Association of Patient Councils
    This is the provincial association of patient councils of hospitals providing psychiatric services. The association shares ideas, issues and concerns that affect consumer/survivors and brings them to the attention of the appropriate decision-making body.
    Tel: 416-633-9420 ext. 6969
  • Empowerment Council
    The Council conducts systemic advocacy on behalf of current and former mental health and addiction clients of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. They advocated for a Bill of Client Rights at the centre. They also act as interveners in significant legal cases that affect the rights of people with mental illness and addictions.
  • Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
    The association provides support, information and education to people with mood disorders and their families. Their website includes a list of self-help groups across the province. It also has a forum for online peer support.
  • Ontario Obsessive-Compulsive Network
    The network provides information and connections to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and their families. Their website includes a list of self-help groups, both peer and professional-led groups.
  • Ontario Self-Help Network
    This provincial network supports the development of new and existing self-help/mutual aid groups.



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