Mental health – peer support scores better in areas related to the recovery process

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Systematic reviews have confirmed that, while peer support and clinical practice typically perform fairly equally on traditional outcome measures like rehospitalization and relapse, peer support scores better in areas related to the recovery process.1 In particular, peer support tends to offer greater levels of self‐efficacy, empowerment, and engagement.2 This mechanism of benefit could come from the social connectedness experienced from interacting with peers, with one study showing that people with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychoses value the sense of group belonging that comes from sharing personal stories.3 The mutual exchange of strategies to cope with the everyday challenges of living with a mental illness is also an important aspect of the peer-to-peer community.

“There is a lot of value in sharing with people who have overcome similar mental health challenges,” says psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel, author of the award-winning book, It’s Not Always Depression (http://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com). “Peer support builds confidence and hope for healing.” Indeed, in a meta-study, Dr Daniela Fuhr and colleagues found that peers have the potential to deliver care to persons with serious mental illness that can result in improved quality of life as a result of such increases in hope.4 Furthermore, there is some evidence that interventions delivered in an individual format work better than group interventions. However, for depression, the team found no effect on improvements in clinical and psychosocial outcomes. Still, the study concludes that peer interventions are an untapped resource in global mental health.