Is peer support effective in working with people experiencing mental health crises?

SAMHSA’s Practice Guidelines on the Core Elements in Responding to Mental Health Crises cites the availability of peer support as one of the principles necessary for enacting the 10 essential values that are inherent in an appropriate response to crisis. Services should provide opportunities for contact with individuals who have experienced mental health crises in their lives and progressed in their personal recovery sufficiently to provide a first-hand message of hopefulness. Additionally, peers working in support roles can assist in connecting individuals with others who have lived experience with similar situations and who can help them overcome the feelings of isolation and fear. Individuals, including peer specialists, involved in crisis interventions should have appropriate training and demonstrable competence to effectively intervene with the problems being presented. Peer specialists are often able to build trusting relationships with the people they are serving relatively quickly based on the principles of shared experience, mutuality, and transparency. They are frequently able to interact with individuals experiencing crises who may have feelings of fear or distrust for other providers. Additionally, peers are generally able to provide the individual with more attention and chances to talk through their problems than other professionals in an emergency room or crisis unit. Peer specialists can inspire hope and demonstrate the possibility of recovery. These attributes are frequently calming and effective in deescalating what can otherwise be a highly stressful and traumatizing experience.

These guidelines published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada provide additional insight and expertise on the practice and training of peer support.

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