Peer support workers in mental health: win-win, not win-lose (updated)

There’s an excellent editorial in the latest Journal of Psychosocial Nursing (JPN), which reports on recent evidence concerning peer support workers and what this means for mental health professionals, especially nurses.

The evidence picks up a recent Cochrane Database systematic review, which has been brilliantly summarised by Mental Elf. The systematic review found:

  • Outcomes for people with mental health problems are no different when interventions have been delivered by other people with mental health problems (i.e. peers) than when they’ve been delivered by professionals
  • Peer support interventions for people with depression were better than typical interventions.

Put simply, peer support interventions are at least as good as professional interventions from a clinical point of view, quite aside from the additional, “softer” benefits that might accrue to both the user and the peer supporter.

Building on this, organisations like the Centre for Mental Health have published really useful documents, such as “Peer Support Workers: Theory and Practice” and “Peer support in mental health: is it good value for money?” (answer: yes).

But the JPN article also goes on to explore the implications of the positives of peer support for mental health professionals, especially nurses.

It makes an important point that often gets missed:

Studies evaluating the views of service users and carers show that mental health nursing has a lot to offer with skills, knowledgeable, caring clinicians providing a range of therapeutic interventions and organising and coordinating multi-disciplinary care… [Nurses] should recognise that our role can profit from collaborating with and listening to colleagues who have first-hand experience as services users.

The drive to include peer support workers, as well as more personalised approaches, in mental health, is often seen as a zero-sum, win/lose power game: power is taken away from professionals and given to users.

I think this is wrong: it’s a positive-sum, win/win game, where both professionals and users can both benefit.

It’s great to see this point being made, and I hope we can keep finding examples of where win-win is the case in practice rather than win-lose the worry in theory.

(Thanks to @teaandtalking and @coyle_mj for highlighting the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing that prompted this post.)

Update: Completely forgot to include the Centre for Mental Health’s “Peer Support Workers: Practical guide to implementation” in the resources above.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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