Organisational recognition, integration and acceptance of the peer support workforce

Organisational Actions for Improving Recognition, Integration and Acceptance of Peer Support as Identified by a Current Peer Workforce

by Verity Reeves, Mark Loughhead, Matthew Anthony Halpin, and Nicholas Procter

Published 18 August 2023

What's the issue?

Peer support workers would benefit from being considered by the mental health and suicide prevention sector as an integral part of recovery-oriented practice for mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

The role of peer support workers is to utilise their lived and living experience of mental health concerns and suicide to provide hope, support, and connection to others experiencing mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Engaging with peer support services can improve mental health recovery outcomes for some individuals.

There are concerns about how existing health-based organisations utilise and accept the peer support workforce as part of their organisational structure and practice.

Research shows that the peer support workforce has faced challenges surrounding integrating peer support into health organisations. Some challenges include inconsistent or poor understanding by the organisation of peer support roles and confusion about their purpose, practices and benefits.

What was done?

The researchers of this study aimed to gather the experiences of peer support workers on the positive and negative aspects of integration and inclusion in organisations delivering recovery-oriented services.

Researchers recruited 18 study participants from mental health services across Australia through targeted sampling and referrals. Study participants were peer support workers currently employed in publicly accessible mental health services in Australia.

Researchers interviewed participants through video call or telephone using a semi-structured interview.

Interview questions focused on the peer support worker’s experience of integration into mental health care teams, what supports were provided by the organisation to facilitate integration and how, from their perspective, this may be improved or better supported.

Semi-structured interviews were analysed to highlight key themes, patterns and details in the data to better understand the experience of peer support workers.

What was found?

Common themes emerged from the interview data related to organisational culture, the role of leadership, actions required to support integration, and acceptance and sustainability of the peer support role.

Some of the areas of action that study participants shared included:

  • Education for existing staff on peer support roles
  • Robust induction of peer workers to employing organisation
  • Consistent supervision and debriefing for peer staff
  • Clear referral pathways into peer support service
  • Regular involvement and consultation with peer workforce
  • Meaningful leadership support and Professional development pathways for peer support workers.

The study participants stated that the involvement of peer support workers in organisational decision-making could better support the integration and acceptance of peer support in the organisation. Organisational leaders have a key role in accepting and integrating the peer support workforce in mental health recovery pathways.

Why are findings important?

It is important for organisations to understand better the value and potential recovery outcomes for people who engage with peer support services and programs. The research also suggests that the approach to integrating the peer support workforce into organisations must be based on structural change, suggesting it needs to be more effective or sufficient to add peer workers into existing processes without adaptations.

Organisations could better understand the value of the peer support workforce and its potential benefits and approach it in a way that will encourage sustainability of the peer support workforce and support professional growth for peer workers.