Hurley, J., Hutchinson, M., Cashin, A., & Kozlowski, D. School Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University.
Peer Workers (PW) are an emerging group within the landscape of the Australian mental health workforce. However, there is a lack of quantitative empirical evidence in the current international literature that unambiguously supports the positive impact and efficiency of PWs (Lloyd- Evans, et al., 2014).
The gold standard Cochran review process was undertaken by Pitt, Lowe, and Hill et al. (2013) who identified that there were only limited differences between services including peers and those without peer involvement. Peers spent more time with consumers and there was a small decrease in use of crisis services by consumers. Other reviews highlight that PW studies are highly limited due to the diversity of methodologies and outcomes measured (Repper & Carter, 2011). However, studies mainly suggest PWs can positively contribute to the wellbeing and recovery of people with mental health challenges (Hurley et al, 2016).
Within the context of regional Australia, a mixed methods study of PWs was recently undertaken with the aims of identifying the levels of collaborative working with PWs and to understand the mechanisms and outputs of those collaborations.
Quantitative data across stakeholders indicated that PWs were involved in quite high levels of collaboration and were highly regarded, but that stakeholders were unclear as to their precise roles. Their professional identity was strongly constructed around role modelling of recovery.
Qualitative findings indicated that PWs’ own recovery is at risk where role ambiguity and insufficient support exists. Additionally, the wide variance in what constitutes the lived experience that underpins their roles was indicated as needing strengthening through education. PWs report making most difference in the ‘grassroots’ of forming and developing consumer groups. Certainly consumers have greater trust in PWs than they do many mental health professionals.
Conclusions from this study are that PWs make a highly valuable contribution to consumers and require ongoing high quality supervision and additional training in mental health. Lived experience needs wider but systematic adoption into the mental health workforce. Most importantly there is a need for consistent data collection on the tangible outputs from lived experience workers.