Tuesday, February 13, 2007

TO READ: Peer Support Study Results Extremely Positive
I just read the results of several research studies that asked: What benefits do peer support programs offer to mental health consumers? The answers, on the website of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.dbsalliance.org), were astounding.

In these programs, consumers act as trained service providers to others with mental health issues to: help them develop self-management skills, aid in restoring social roles such as work, and encourage them to find - and commit to - more effective care for their illness. Organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) offer such peer-to-peer training programs.

In Canada, research on a program known as the Consumer/Survivor Initiatives found very positive results in terms of mental health symptoms, recovery support, and reduced use of hospital and emergency services. The CSI report found:

-- The average number of hospital days for participants dropped from 48 to 4.
-- More than $12 million was saved in reduced hospital stays for three hospitals over one year.
-- Self-described "lonely" consumers who were partnered with a peer mentor used on average $20,300 less per person in hospital and emergency services in the one year post discharge.

I've known many people who've benefited from peer services, as well as informal friendships and support groups, but I still found the degree of these improvements amazing. It seems obvious that training peers to provide such support - which I believe benefits them as well - should be a priority in all mental health care systems.

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