By Amanda Cruz
For some people, getting clinical treatment for mental illness or substance use disorders isn’t enough to help them succeed in their recovery. They need more personal care that empowers them to follow through with their care plan. Peer supporters offer a more personal support system for those in recovery to rely on. Peer supporters are people who have lived experience with mental illness or substance use disorders, that provide assistance to those in recovery. They build positive and welcoming relationships with those they are supporting and empowering them to succeed.
Peer supporters offer a variety of services based on the program that they’re in such as sharing resources, building life skills, offering mentorship, or just providing an ear to listen. Some peer supporters act as the first line of defense for those with no one to turn to, such as the peer supporters that run various helplines like the California Warmline. Other peers provide outreach to connect vulnerable communities to resources. Or some peers provide ongoing support to individuals in substance use recovery programs.
California is facing a critical behavioral health workforce shortage. Right now only one-third of Californians living with a mental illness are getting the care they need. Without enough workers to provide care, people living with mental illness and substance use disorders face worsening symptoms leading to frequent hospitalization or a cycle of criminalization. Peer supporters are a critical component of our overall behavioral health workforce and studies have shown that using peer supporters in care has many benefits including:
- Decreased substance use and depression
- Reduced hospital admission rates
- Increased engagement in self-care and wellness
- Increased self-esteem and confidence
- Increased sense of self-control
Increasing the number of peer supporters in California is essential to ensuring our mental health care system is meeting the need for care. In 2020, the Steinberg Institute led the effort to standardize the requirements for peer certification and establish peer supporters as providers and service types covered by Medi-Cal through Senate Bill 803. But there is still an opportunity to increase the number of supporters in the state. To learn more about peer support specialists in California visit the California Mental Health Services Authority.