Peer Support & The Helper Effect -- When Doing Good Feels Good: Interview with Lt. John Coppedge | Episode 29

NOTE: This podcast aired on 2/12/19 at 10:00AM ET at

Peer Support in Suicide Prevention

Photo Credit: Joe Houghton

Photo Credit: Joe Houghton

While peer support and peer specialist efforts have long existed in areas of mental health communities and post-critical incidents, their role in suicide prevention has been more recent. Some feared that peer support might increase vulnerability through the “copycat” phenomenon. Others were concerned that suicide was just too complicated of an issue for peers to try to take on.

Then we listened to the voices of people with lived experience with suicidal intensity who told us over and over that peers played an incredibly influential role in not only bringing them back from the brink, but giving them new reasons for living and hope. Peer supporters and peer specialists also told us that helping others helped them.

The Helper Effect

This “Helper Effect” is a well-established phenomenon where people use the wisdom they have gained through living with a problem to help others with the same or similar problem, and in return their own recovery is strengthened. There are many reasons why this is so:

  1. Makes meaning and affirms recovery.

    When we are applying the insight from our own experience while helping others, we can sometimes think, “Well, I wish I never had to go through my hard time, but now that I have, I can use my inner wisdom to help another in a way I wouldn’t have been able to without the experience.”

  2. Feelings of social value and respect.

    Helping others is an honorable role — even when we feel like imposters — we can feel a boost when others have confidence in our abilities and knowledge.

  3. Keeps helper accountable to wellness.

    When we find ourselves in a position of supporting another person, we often think, “I need to take care of myself for me AND because now I am a role model for someone else.” OR as my colleague Chris Carlough once said, “You are like a lifeguard — you can’t be tired if you are saving the lives of others; you need to be strong enough for two.”

  4. Reciprocity.

    When we “have each other’s backs” and are willing to be vulnerable with one another, we develop high trust relationships. Our safety net for emotional crises is strengthened.

  5. It feels good to do good.

    When we connect in positive ways our brain releases endorphins and oxytocin that helps us feel bonded and improves our self-image.

In this interview I get the honor of chatting with Lt. John Coppedge, whom I met through the Denver Police Department’s Peer Support Program. Lt. Coppedge was a key leader in our “Breaking the Silence” video and training workbook with the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Here he shares his journey about his own trauma history and how it has helped shape his passion for peer support.

Lt. John Coppedge

About Lt. John Coppedge

John Coppedge has served as a police officer with the Denver Police Department since 1992. He currently serves as the Director of Training, as well as supervising the departments employee wellness and resiliency program. He has volunteered as a peer counselor with the agency’s Peer Support team since 2002. John received his BA in Communication with a minor in Psychology from Regis University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. He is pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling also from Regis University.

When not working, John enjoys spending time with his wife Joni, his children and grandchildren.

Show Notes

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)’s Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention

Project Helping

Denver Police Department Peer Support

John Violanti’s Book: Police Suicide

Brene Brown

Huffington Post “What if it’s simple?” — article with Dr. Ursula Whiteside

Responder Strong

Building Warriors

Job Strain and Suicide (CDC)

Judge (Ret.) Mary McClatchey — performance management and support for mental health

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