Peer Support and Recovery

Posted on 26 June, 2016  in Conditions, News

harry_shulman_lgPeer Support and Recovery

The Shared Benefits  

Recently, South Shore Mental Health opened the doors to its Peer-to-Peer Program at 460 Quincy Avenue in Quincy. Funded by the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, the program is operated in conjunction with the SSMH Emergency Services Program (ESP) and staffed by peers who have lived experience with mental illness. This new resource provides clients with assistance during times when access to mental health services is unavailable. The program is open Thursday and Friday from 5:00 pm until 11:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, and on holidays between the hours of 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.

The mission of the Peer-to-Peer Program is to provide a safe and supportive environment where clients can connect with others whose shared experiences help them work through various stages of crisis. Upon referral, clients can join in peer-led activities, including guided meditation, arts and crafts, and “recovery is real” group discussions. If they prefer, they can just relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, or watch television in a comfortable, home-like atmosphere surrounded by empathetic peers whose similar situations can be invaluable to their recovery. However they choose to spend their time, clients are certain to be met by their peers with respect, understanding, and ongoing encouragement designed to renew hope and strengthen determination to stay on track with their own journey of recovery.

The foundation of mental health peer support in the U.S. can be traced to the 1970’s when many state hospitals and institutions were closed, and former patients needed community support. Angered by mistreatment, many turned to each other for help—sharing practical, social, and emotional guidance in a non-judgmental way. Gaining momentum, the demand for improved mental health services grew, and by the 1980’s, increased funding and recognition of peer support as a powerful recovery tool led to the emergence of peer roles in a multitude of settings. Since then, the practice of employing peers in mental health organizations has grown steadily, and today, they can be found within inpatient and outpatient clinics, respite centers, hospitals, crisis stabilization units, emergency rooms, and more.

At SSMH, in addition to empowering clients in our Peer-to-Peer Program, peer staff work alongside clinicians within our Intensive Community Support, Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) and Transition Resources and Community Supports (TRACS) programs, as well as our Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), Emergency Services Program (ESP) and Successful Employment Program (SEP). Qualified by lived experience and trained through the Massachusetts Certified Peer Specialist Program, each is dedicated to connecting with clients, urging open, honest dialogue—and showing by example that recovery is possible. Role models for the group, they also advocate for their peers, promote healing through relationship building, and provide guidance on other mental health resources if needed.

We’re pleased to add the Peer-to-Peer Program as an enhancement to SSMH’s therapeutic offerings. Studies show that mental health peer programs have reduced hospitalizations, increased coping skills, and enhanced the sense of well-being among individuals struggling with mental health issues. They’ve also been shown to empower support givers during their own recovery. For both peer staff and clients, these are positive findings and we look forward to facilitating these relationships, and continuing to build hope and change the lives of those living with mental illness.

For more information about South Shore Mental Health’s Peer-to-Peer Program, please contact the ESP team at 617-774-6036 or 800-528-4890.

Harry Shulman President/CEO, LICSW

This article, Peer Support and Recovery, first appeared on South Shore Mental Health.