For community members who live with mental health issues, Peer Support staff can provide a vital lifeline–helping consumers manage their daily lives.
Collaborating with therapists, psychiatrists, caseworkers, nurses and other staff, Peer Support specialists bring real-life experience to the mix, helping support and advocate for clients. The training takes 40 hours and is a combination of in-person and on-line experiences.
At LifeWorks NW, Peer Support and Peer Wellness specialists work in a wide range of inpatient and outpatient programs. For example, the ACT program, which works with people with severe and persistent mental health issues, supports clients living in private homes, in Respite or adult foster care. Some participants are in the state hospital or jail, and some live in motels or on the streets. ACT meets them wherever they’re at.
For some, Peer Support helps manage medications or visits with the doctor, while others want to focus on coping with social interactions. Just helping to make tea or a smoothie and talk over their needs is important for some clients. Others may want help coping with the anxiety caused by shopping. Another will want a Peer Support specialist to accompany them to the dentist, to help them overcome shyness and be able to share their needs and concerns with the doctor.
Peer support can help clients in their personal lives as well. They might work together on budgeting, meeting personal goals, or even just finding time to be creative. A Peer Support specialist might help a client find resources for day-to-day issues like fixing a broken car or preparing to bring home an emotional support animal.
One Peer Support specialist with LifeWorks NW, Traci Ball, says, “Every morning, five days a week, we have a group meeting, and we go over every single client. That’s how absolutely up-to-date we are with every client. We’re working with people with severe and persistent mental illness. We even have our own 24/7 crisis line for our participants, so we are very involved in every aspect of their lives.”
Altogether, LifeWorks NW’s ACT team works with about 50 clients in Washington County, they connect with each of them 2-3 times a week. They work with participants’ primary care physicians, their psychiatrists, psych med nurses, medical nurses, case managers and therapists. Sometimes they accompany doctors on visits to see people in the community.
What makes Peer Support workers unique in the mental health world is that they do not fill a clinical role. They are people who have life experiences that enable them to help guide others through the process of mental health treatment and recovery.
“[It allows] me to […] walk with the participants as an equal,” says Traci. “My role is to make sure the participants’ voices are heard and that they are seen.”