What are peer support services?
A peer is one that is of equal standing with another. We each have many peer groups based on our age, work, hobbies, and other facets of our identity. In the mental health system, peer support is offered by an individual who identifies as having lived experience with trauma, psychiatric diagnosis, and/or extreme emotional states. The term peer does not simply refer to someone who has had experience. Peer-to-peer support is primarily about how people connect to and interact with one another in a mutual relationship.
Peer-to-peer roles are different from traditional roles that happen to be filled by someone with lived experience. Someone working in a traditional role, such as a clinician or nurse, may have had similar experiences as those who are using their services (e.g., a nurse may also be a cancer survivor). This still does not make that person a peer in the sense that we are discussing here. They may share their personal experience, but they are still operating within their primary role as a clinician or nurse. There remains a substantive difference between the peer and non-peer roles, although both are valuable.
Peer Specialists are peers with training and certifications from the New York State Office of Mental Health, or the Office of Addictions Services and Supports, or both, to help others through their peer role. By sharing their own lived experience and practical guidance, Peer Specialists help people develop their goals, create strategies for self-empowerment, and take concrete steps toward building fulfilling self-determined lives.
The mission statement of WWAMH’s Peer Services Program:
As peers of WWAMH, our mission is to offer hope as we walk alongside those with mental health challenges and/or substance use disorder–to support and journey with them as they are encouraged to make positive changes and move toward the light of health, wellness, and wholeness.
You can read more about peer services here.