The first question that I am often asked is, what is Peer Support? Great question! The Canadian Mental Health Association provides the following definition:
“Peer support is a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. Because of their life experience, Peer Support workers bring with them an expertise that professional training cannot replicate.”
Peer Support is most often associated with common experiences around mental health illness and addiction. This support can be emotional, social or practical support or a combination of all three. Peer Support provides benefits to both the person giving as well as the person receiving the support because it focuses on a strength based perspective. Focusing on what’s strong rather than what’s wrong is a key piece to Peer Support work.
It should be noted that Peer Support workers are not case managers, clinicians or therapists. Peer Support is a separate tool that can be added to a person’s mental health recovery tool kit. Peer Support workers (Peers) walk beside another person on their journey, they don’t direct the recovery journey. Peer Support offers hope of sustainability to a person on their recovery journey. Lived experience is the cornerstone to this work and provides an authentic and supportive mentorship relationship.
Peer Support Evidence:
Research in a number of countries over the past decade has exposed the benefits to embedding Peer Support in our system as:
- Being effective in engaging people into care
- Reducing the use of emergency rooms and inpatient facilities
- Reducing substance use among persons with co-occurring substance use disorders
- Increase in individual empowerment
- Instilling hope and strength of social networks
In 2016, CMHA-Calgary Region created a Provincial Peer Support Report: A Report Back to Albertans. This report was created with the involvement of over 270 Albertans who were connected to Peer Support in some capacity. This report was created to provide evidence of the need for Peer Support in the mental health system in Alberta. Their findings concluded that:
“Peer Support works. Peer Support is effective. People with lived experience can offer huge benefits to each other… the development of personal resourcefulness and self-belief which is the foundation of peer support, improves people’s lives.” (Pg. 4)
Sunderland, K., Mishkin, W. and Peer Leadership Group, Mental Health Commission of Canada, (2013) Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support. Mental Health Commission of Canada, Calgary, AB