Mental health peer support specialists share their lived experiences with those who have mental illness. They provide clients with a relatable and empathetic healing perspective. Peers are in recovery from mental illness and often substance use disorder. They work in mental health facilities, for private and public mental health providers and in peer-run organizations.
How Peers Help
By sharing their stories, peer support specialists serve as mentors and guide others along the recovery path. Duties range from advocating for clients to simply being someone to talk to. Peers also:
- Help clients get involved in the community
- Assist in establishing social supports
- Educate peers on what to expect when entering mental health services
- Follow a strict code of ethics
- Refer clients to mental health and community resources
- Practice trauma-informed care
- Facilitate groups
- Assist with conflict resolution
- Promote self-care strategies
- Instill hope
Fighting Stigma, Promoting Understanding
Only someone who has faced the stigma of mental illness and worked to overcome it can understand how damaging it is and how hard it can be to deal with. Peers serve a vital role in decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness. Members of the public often fear and misunderstand those with mental illness. Peers not only understand it, but they’ve also experienced it. Peers know that getting to know a person is the first step in learning about how mental illness truly affects people. They know that fearing, judging, and turning their back on the mentally ill is not the answer, nor is it in anyone’s best interest.
This helps to reduce a client’s internalized stigma. Getting clients into the community also helps address public stigma. Workplace stigma is also reduced due to clinicians working side by side with peers. Peer support specialists benefit their workplaces and colleagues as agents of change for negative attitudes toward clients. They provide a personal perspective on what it’s like to overcome a mental illness and help to create an environment focused on promoting recovery.
A Holistic Approach to Health
Peer support specialists contribute to a holistic approach to mental health care. Peers in recovery have learned that they must protect and foster both physical and mental health. Treating the mind, body, and spirit is equally important. If one area is out of balance, it can throw the others off as well. One of the most important lessons of recovery is maintaining balance, both in our health and in other areas such as work, family, socialization, and leisure time. Peer supports model this balance.
Based on their experience and client needs, peers employ and endorse self-care and wellness techniques. These can include, but are not limited to, sleep hygiene, proper diet, spirituality, socialization, and hygiene. Physical health is also part of a well-rounded recovery path. Peers can support clients at doctors’ appointments by attending them with the client and/or providing transportation.
A Movement That’s Coming of Age
The peer support movement has gained momentum in recent decades. More states are establishing training, certification, and funding for mental health peers. Certified peers and their services are billable under some state-sponsored insurance, and many states are working on the guidelines and requirements to make this possible.
Peer support is an evidence-based practice. Research has found it to be beneficial because it:
- Reduces hospital readmissions by 42%
- Reduces days in hospital by 48%
- Improves relationship with providers
- Increases engagement with care
- Decreases substance use
- Decreases depression
- Increases hopefulness
- Increases activation and self‐care
- Increases sense of well‐being
Peer Support Complements the System
There are many things that peers are not and should not try to be. They are not therapists, psychiatrists, doctors, or social workers. They do not give medical advice or perform psychotherapy.
The benefit of peers is in their shared understanding with clients. They relate on a level that cannot be reached with therapists, psychiatrists, or social workers. These practitioners remain an integral part of mental health care. Peer support responsibilities might overlap with those of other clinicians at mental health facilities, but they are meant to complement other services, not replace them.
Certified peer support is required to follow a stringent code of ethics. Peer support ethical guidelines include:
- Personal conduct standards
- Sharing their stories in a healthy and appropriate manner
- Respecting privacy and confidentiality
- Respecting the rights and dignity of clients
- Nondiscrimination policies
- Refraining from physical, verbal, and sexual abuse or contact
- Prohibition of substance abuse
Who’s Helping Who?
The beauty of peer-client relationships is that it’s a two-way street. It can help a peer as much as it helps a client. Benefits that the peers may experience includes:
- The rewards of helping others
- Connecting with others and forming rewarding professional relationships
- Watching others grow in their recovery
- Enhancing their own recovery
Certified peer support specialists bring a unique perspective to those they serve. They have overcome many obstacles related to mental illness. When they share their lived experience with others who struggle with such obstacles, peers become empathetic mentors who help clients find and maintain their own recovery. Peer support is a realistic, holistic approach to mental health care that also reduces stigma. Peers undergo specialized training and certification. They are required to adhere to strict ethical standards. Peer support, an evidenced-based practice, is becoming a respected means of care within the American mental health system. Achieve Concierge offers expert mental health services that are specialized for your personal mental wellness, work, and lifestyle needs. In these fast-paced times, what a gift it is to know that we are here to streamline your care and simplify your life. Call (619) 393-5871 today for information about starting your personal path to recovery.