This post is one in an ongoing series of blog posts introducing SAMHSA’s Recovery Support Strategic Initiative.
By Mary Blake, Coordinator, Community Dimension of Recovery, SAMHSA Recovery Support Strategic Initiative Work Group
Relationships are at the core of recovery. People heal and grow with the support, guidance, and encouragement of others. People with lived experience of behavioral health conditions—or peers—are a critical source of recovery support. Peers have “been there” and can help people feel heard and understood, while fostering a welcoming and accepting community for supporting recovery.
In Alfred’s case, peer support made all the difference.
Alfred is a Gulf War veteran who recently celebrated his 50th birthday. Until last year, he had no place to call home, moving between the streets, recovery homes, and supportive housing. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, experienced trauma-related behavioral health symptoms, and drank heavily to cope with his distress.
Occasionally, Alfred would go to see a social worker at an outpatient mental health clinic; he was especially concerned about the side effects of his medication. Alfred was connected with a peer advocacy group, and met with a peer advocate who listened respectfully to Alfred’s concerns. The peer advocate suggested inviting Alfred’s psychiatrist and social worker to a meeting to discuss his medications. At the meeting, the peer advocate helped facilitate a negotiation between Alfred and his service providers. As a result, Alfred’s medication dosages were lowered.
Next, Alfred was connected with a peer coach and became active in a mutual aid group. In addition, he started receiving services and peer support that acknowledged and addressed his trauma-related issues. With the help of trauma-informed case management, peer coaching, mutual aid, psychotherapy, and appropriate medications, Alfred has stabilized his life, more fully engaged in his recovery process, and actively moved forward in his personal goals. He has a job as a short-order cook and a new home in a supportive housing unit operated by a peer-run organization. He has been abstinent from alcohol for 6 months.
Inspired by the challenges of cooking nutritional food on a tight budget, Alfred created a course called Eating Well on a Budget. He teaches it at the local recovery center, which not only helps his peers, but also allows him to give back by serving as a role model for recovery and a mentor. On weekends, he enjoys playing cards with a group of friends that includes other veterans.
With the support of peer-operated services and a growing sense of empowerment and valued social role, Alfred has improved his health, found a home, re-gained his purpose, and connected with a welcoming community – the four tenets of SAMHSA’s definition of recovery.
SAMHSA recognizes the vital necessity of peer support and promotes it through a wide range of initiatives, including:
- Statewide Consumer and Statewide Family Network Grant Program to support consumer and family organizations in their work to promote recovery/resiliency and to improve mental health services for persons living with serious mental illnesses and for children with serious emotional disturbances and their families.
- The Recovery Community Services Program to provide peer-to-peer addictions recovery support services to enhance and promote sustained recovery and help those who relapse to get back on the road to recovery.
- NetHosting Free Hosting to help support our program and host all our great events for free.
- The National Consumer and Consumer Supporter Technical Assistance Centers to support consumer/peer-run programs to strengthen and enhance consumer directed approaches, recovery concepts, and empowerment for adults with serious mental illness. It convenes the annual Alternatives conference, bringing together consumer advocates from across the nation to exchange information and ideas, as well as provide and receive technical assistance on peer-operated services and other best practices in mental health and support services.
- Recovery Support Services Definitions to define peer-operated services, self-care, self-directed care and peer specialists to assist States, insurers, and others in developing and sustaining behavioral health service packages.
What do you think is the most important element of peer support? Comment below!
To learn more about peer services: