You’ve got an eFriend in ICLA’s new Virtual Peer Support Service

(Sydney – 28 April, 2020) eFriend is an innovative new approach to virtual peer support in Australia developed by Independent Community Living Australia (ICLA) to help people who may be experiencing loneliness, isolation, distress, difficulty coping with the impact of trauma, or if they are struggling with anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm.

eFriend builds on the existing network of support lines, web-based services and peer support groups in Australia by offering something unique through one-to-one sessions with an eFriend Peer using an individualised, virtual model.

This model differs from anonymous crisis support lines and borrows from telehealth (where you connect each time with the same person), ensuring that you don’t have to retell your story each time you call.

eFriend also combines the methodology of ‘befriending’ developed in the UK to combat loneliness with the expertise of a trained peer support worker.

eFriend complements other support lines and services delivered by other national mental health organisations, and builds on ICLA’s 30 years of expertise and experience in delivering in-community support for people living with mental illness and trauma.

eFriend is staffed by a trained team of peer support workers who have a lived experience of mental ill health, trauma or distress and who can provide immediate non-clinical, peer-based mental health support to people.

“Our eFriend peer support workers are a trusted and trained person to listen and support you, regardless of your circumstance,” said eFriend CEO, Rachel Green.

“We understand what it means to live with mental health difficulties, trauma or difficult circumstances, and we are here for you if you are feeling alone and need someone to listen and understand what you are going through.”

eFriend is unique in what it delivers, as it provides the following:

  • a planned process of speaking one-on-one to a single, consistent support person so you don’t have to retell your story (similar to that typically used in telehealth or telepsychology)
  • the role and expertise of a Peer Worker who can share their own experience of mental health recovery
  • the ‘Befriending’ model developed in the UK to combat loneliness, and;
  • virtual delivery using video calls

eFriend received $1.5 million in funding from the Australian Government as part of the special mental health package announced by Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, in response to COVID-19.

ICLA’s skilled team of Peer Support Workers are trained in:

  • Intentional Peer Support
  • ASIST (Suicide Prevention)
  • Trauma Informed Care
  • Befriending
  • Open Dialogue, and;
  • Safe Storytelling

Crucially, their training is also supported by their own journey of recovery, providing support to help other people navigate their way through uncertain times.

eFriend provides up to six sessions of virtual one-on-one peer support using the non-clinical ‘befriending’ methodology combined with the well-established role of mental health peer work to provide mental health support for people experiencing trauma, loneliness and distress via telephone or videoconference.

eFriend can assist people to cope with current events (whether personal crises or national emergencies) as part of their wider mental health treatment plan or simply provide them with a positive social interaction during a difficult time.

Among the peer support team is Rebecca Attard.

“An eFriend can be someone you need to walk beside you just to listen and provide advice – just like a friend,” Rebecca said.

“People can turn to us because we bring our own stories to the role.”

eFriend was originally designed following a co-design process as the pre-stay component of ICLA’s residential model of the Suicide Prevention and Recovery Centre (SPARC).

How eFriend works

  • Links are provided through the social media campaign, via self-referral or referral by others will lead the person in need to our short web intake form.
  • People are required to answer a small number of questions to gauge their need, urgency and situation.
  • To attend your first eFriend Peer session, you will log in to the eFriend website and use the secure videoconferencing functionality.
  • Your eFriend Peer will then book your future sessions for you and you will speak to the same person each time.
  • The attendance of the person in need is confirmed each day before, via text.
  • Each session will be carried out over video link. For those not comfortable with video calls, we can treat it like a standard call without using video.
  • During each session we incorporate practices from Open Dialogue, Intentional Peer Support, Trauma Informed Care, ASIST and Safe Storytelling. This is while following a semi-scripted format to ensure the safety of the person in need.
  • Each session seeks consent to capture some essential information which is documented within our secure CRM. This is to avoid people contacting eFriend having to reiterate parts of their story and helps a conversation pick up where it left off.
  • Should a person in need be identified as ‘At Risk’ this can be escalated and our Mental Health Safety Policy will be activated however our eFriend Peers are comfortable and trained to discuss feelings of suicide and self-harm and do not refer away people who wish to discuss how they are feeling.
  • In cases where the person contacting eFriend wishes, we can assist to connect them with alternate or additional services and supports, however our primary goal is to listen.
  • If the person contacting eFriend wishes, we can support them to create a safety plan and/or self-care plan.
  • Should the person in need require additional calls we are flexible in increasing the number of sessions available up to 8.
  • Should a caller require eFriend at a later stage, the service will recommence with engagement from their support networks/mental health professionals.

The semi-structured approach to eFriend follows the dynamic of a social call, delivered by a trained Peer Support Worker, experienced in Open Dialogue, befriending, trauma informed care and safe story telling. The call is non-scripted but follows a guide which may include:

  • how are you
  • what is/has been happening for you
  • what do you want to talk about?
  • what support do you have around you?
  • what support are you missing, and options do you have for more support
  • plans to connect again within the program

Download Media Release here.