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Peer supporters identify challenges and solutions for working in mental health (Australia)

May 17, 2012

A recent study with peer support workers in western Australia identified the challenges and solutions – from a peer support perspective – of being employed in mental health services.

A focus group of seven peer supporters (out of the 25 identified) was conducted to understand the challenges and solutions to providing paid peer support to consumers. The group was asked two questions, “What challenges have you encountered in the course of your work as a peer support worker?” and “How did you deal with the challenges you faced?” Five challenges were then prioritized.

The biggest concern for peer support workers was the lack of clarity around their role which resulted in problems with setting boundaries – both with fellow staffers and consumers, and what to expect from others when returning to work after a mental health leave. The solution for many of the challenges was to educate staff, particularly management, on the value of peer support. A suggestion was to accredit peer support and to provide a manual or handbook to educate staff.

Other challenges included:

  • Managers’ conflicting expectations of work demand and time allocation (especially given the fact that peer support workers only worked part-time),
  • When and how peer workers should disclose their own mental illness to consumers (so as not to blur the line between supporter and friend)
  • Managing supervisory relationships
  • Peer Support Workers felt they were inadequately supported to do their job

In order for peer workers to feel included and treated like equals, the authors felt that cultural change is required to develop recovery-oriented work environments. A description of all worker roles, including those for peer support, was also identified as a mechanism for helping peer support workers feel less excluded and more accepted as equals by their co-workers.

See, “Challenges Faced by Mental Health Peer Support Workers: Peer Support From the Peer Supporters Point of View,” available atwww.ncbi/nlm.nih.gov.

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