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Photo of a peer provider helps a patient with mental health issues

People With Mental Illness Are Finding Work Helping Peers (NPR)

July 11, 2017

A new NPR story about peer support for people with mental illness in Texas, features Joanne Spetz, Healthforce Center's associate director of research. Peer providers are people with lived experience who are hired to provide direct support to others in recovery from mental health and/or substance use disorders.

Spetz says peers play a critical role in mental health teams — alongside doctors and social workers. "When [programs] first brought in peers," Spetz says, "[they] had to spend a lot of time with the social workers, explaining to them that we were not going to take their work and hand it off to a cheaper person — that what the peer did was complimentary, but it was different."

David Woodside, who has bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, is also featured in the story. After spending time in jail for kicking his brother, he enrolled in an anger management class at Metrocare, a nonprofit serving people with mental illness in North Texas. At Metrocare, Woodside also started visiting peer specialist David Yarborough's office several times a week. Yarborough, who takes the same medication as Woodside, offers coaching on how to manage the symptoms of bipolar and schizoaffective disorder "[Psychiatrists] see you for about six or seven minutes," Yarborough says. "They don't know what's going on with you. And Dave's been through a lot of the things I've been through — and vice versa," Yarborough says.

Yarborough was trained by a nonprofit organization Via Hope, as part of a peer specialist training program that takes 43 hours over five days. The program covers topics like ethics, using your own recovery story and more. He received a certification that is valid for two years. More than 900 people in Texas have gone through the same training program.

Peer providers are increasingly being used to support transitions of care from inpatient mental health and substance abuse programs into the community, and from forensic settings (jail and prison) into the community. Peer providers fulfill a broad range of tasks, with titles including but not limited to: peer support specialist, peer mentor or counselor, recovery support specialist, recovery coach, client liaison, peer bridger and family support navigator.

Healthforce Center research, explores the growth and development of the peer provider workforce in California.