Empowering Peer Support Workers in Mental Health Service Delivery

Empowering Peer Support Workers in Mental Health Service Delivery

Grace Zeng, Curtin UniversityMoving away from a deficits-approach, scholars have described recovery as a journey, in which a person:

(1) makes sense of their experience;
(2) learns to manage their illness;
(3) regains psychological and emotional well-being; and
(4) takes on socially valued roles.

Some authors argue that recovery is best seen in terms of social interaction. It is suggested that peer support is a key component of recovery as it holds negligible assumptions about a person’s capacities and limitations, and avoids hierarchical relationships between health care providers and patients, thus allowing people living with a mental illness to move away from their disability to attempt new, health-enriching behaviours with one another.

Recent mental health policy and funding further reflects the rising importance of the role of Peer Support Workers (PSWs) in addressing the needs of mental health consumers in Western Australia. However, studies on peer support in Australia have been scarce.

Grace presents findings from the first phase of a larger study designed to investigate how peer support facilitates recovery for people with mental illness in Western Australia. Ten interviews were conducted with managers, policy makers, educators and supervisors of peer support workers, from government and non governmental service providers to:

(1) explore the role of peer support in the organisation;
(2) examine how peer support workers are prepared for and supported in their roles and
(3) investigate their perspective of the peer support relationship.

The following themes emerged from the interviews:

(1) working with and through the lived experience of mental illness;
(2) the characteristics of successful PSWs;
(3) recruiting and developing PSWs;
(4) developing peer support as a profession;
(5) embracing PSWs as colleagues in the workplace.

Addressing these issues warrant the attention of policy makers and management, as the establishment of Peer Support services in Western Australia advances.

Mrs Grace Zeng, Lecturer, Curtin University will present at the:

13th International Mental Health Conference, "Positive Change -- Investing in Mental Health"  6th to the 8th of August 2012, on the Gold Coast.

Web: https://dev3.anzmh.asn.au/conference Email: conference@anzmh.asn.au

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