Skip to main content

Peer Services

The concept of “peer support” is not something that is unique to individuals with mental health and other co-occurring issues. In their 2004 article Peer Support What Makes It Unique, Shery Mead and Cheryl MacNeil write:

“Peer support for people with similar life experiences (e.g., people who’ve lost children, people with alcohol and substance abuse problems, etc.) has proven to be tremendously important towards helping many move through difficult situations (Reissman, 1989; Roberts & Rappaport, 1989). In general, peer support has been defined by the fact that people who have like experiences can better relate and can consequently offer more authentic empathy and validation. It is also not uncommon for people with similar lived experiences to offer each other practical advice and suggestions for strategies that professionals may not offer or even know about. Maintaining its non-professional vantage point is crucial in helping people rebuild their sense of community when they’ve had a disconnecting kind of experience.”

While there is great diversity in the ways in which peer support is provided for individuals with mental health and other co-occurring issues, Mead and MacNeil (2004) have identified core elements of mental health peer support that make it unique and an alternative form of support for individuals who have not been able to achieve recovery through traditional, professional services. These include:

• being free from coercion (e.g. voluntary),

• consumer-run and directed (both governmentally and programmatically),

• an informal setting with flexibility, and a non-hierarchical, and non-medical approach (e.g. not diagnosing),

• the peer principle (finding affiliation with someone with similar life experience and having an equal relationship),

• the helper principle (the notion that being helpful to someone else is also self-healing),

• empowerment (finding hope and believing that recovery is possible; taking personal responsibility for making it happen),

• advocacy (self and system advocacy skills),

• choice and decision-making opportunities,

• skill development,

• positive risk-taking,

• reciprocity,

• support,

• a sense of community,

• self-help,

• developing awareness

Peer support can take many different forms such as self-help and mutual support groups, peer crisis respite, warm lines, inpatient peer services, wellness planning and skill development, peer-driven housing supports, peer drop-in, and community centers. This support has been shown to be effective in supporting recovery. As stated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “evidence shows that consumer-operated services are supporting people in their wellness and recovery while also contributing to the entire mental health service system.”4 For these reasons, it is the goal of the Department of Mental Health to make a variety of peer supports available to anyone in the state struggling with mental health and other co-occurring issues. The implementation of the programs described below is helping the Department to move closer to this goal.