Why do we limit who gets peer support? | Mental Health America

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Why do we limit who gets peer support?

September 27, 2018

By Kelly Davis, Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services at Mental Health America

Both research and countless stories from individuals with lived experience show that peer support works. From improving depression, reducing substance abuse, increasing self-esteem and inclusion to keeping people out of the hospital, peer support has been transforming lives and systems for decades and continues to do so.

It makes sense. Why wouldn’t we utilize people who have experienced mental health, trauma or substance use abuse challenges and received specialized training to offer support to others in similar situations, and to share what has been most effective with decisionmakers in said systems?

Despite what seems obvious, peer support has struggled to expand beyond its traditional settings. While more needs to be done to expand access to peers where they have been, more also needs to be done to expand peer support to the individuals who would benefit from it, but do not have access to it or even know what it is.

Currently, people often experience serious life disruption, whether that’s losing a job, losing a place to live, or being hospitalized, before eventually getting access to peer support. But what if we could engage and support people earlier, before they receive damaging messages about their wellbeing, face serious external consequences, and lose time that could be spent pursuing what matters to them in the community? What if we could provide peer support throughout health care and services in both the public and private sectors?

This limited access to peer support is a key issue Mental Health America (MHA) aims to address with the National Certified Peer Specialist (NCPS) certification. The NCPS, developed with the Florida Certification Board, a group of leaders in peer support, and the feedback of peers across the country, is the first national, advanced peer specialist certification. It was created to meet the standards demanded by the private sector and commercial payers. Its focus on whole health and understanding health care also supports its effectiveness.

We believe that peer support works and that individuals, whether in the emergency department, a community mental health center or their primary care office, deserve access to this transformational support.

To learn more about the NCPS, head to NationalPeerSpecialist.org.

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