What is a Peer Worker?
A Peer Worker is a member of staff who has lived experience of mental health difficulties, and is specifically employed to make use of this experience in their work, to model recovery, inspire hope and support people using services towards their own recovery. They are also employed for their excellent interpersonal skills and strong insight into their own mental health issues, as well as their ability to articulate their own recovery.
Peer Workers are employed in a range of mental health care settings as part of the multidisciplinary team. They can do a range of things with people, such as running activity groups, taking people out in the community, supporting people emotionally or with practical tasks such as attending appointments. In BEH, we have Peer Workers in a range of settings including in A&E.
Why do we need Peer Workers?
In 2015, NHS England’s Mental Health Taskforce recommended that: “Peer support… should be developed as a core part of the multi-disciplinary team.” (Mental Health Taskforce, 2016: 45)
Peer work has its origins in peer support movements, such as the Survivor Movement, or groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Weightwatchers. More than that, it grows out of the natural tendency of people to share experiences, support one another and learn through one another’s stories. Peer work has long been a cornerstone of how voluntary and third sector organisations provide mental health support. Formalised paid Peer roles have been introduced in health services the USA, Canada and Australia over the last 20 years. In the UK, some NHS Trusts have been using Peer workers for up to 10 years, while others have yet to instate any. Some Trusts have their own recovery colleges where Peers train people in recovery strategy, and some train large cohorts of new Peers every year. The Peer landscape in the UK is certainly in the process of expanding and evolving, and there is still much to learn about recruitment, supportive infrastructure, training and best practice.
At BEH, we stated an initial set of 8 ‘Community Engagement Support Workers’ in 2015, who were dotted around the Trust in various teams. Since the beginning of the Enablement Partnership, we have increased this to 24 Peers, and we continue to recruit. We have researched and created bespoke training for peers, their managers and their colleagues, and we continue to develop the infrastructure around them.
Peer Worker Case Study
Our Peers report finding their roles incredibly stimulating and rewarding, if challenging at times. We have also heard some wonderful stories about how they have been able to support and empower people towards recovery, collected from a wide range of different settings around the Trust.
People’s Experience of Peer Workers at BEH
Here are some things people who have been supported by Peer Workers have fed back to us:
“…it's good it got you talking and… remembering what it's like to communicate…[You might have] spent a lot of time outside of social situations, and being back in that social situation sort of reminds you [about] social cues, even.”
“…You sort of take what they're saying more seriously. [When they’re] telling you ‘you're ok’, or ‘this is fine’, you're thinking well, they kind of know where you're coming from. …They understand that sort of worry or apprehension [you have about] the way you're acting, the way you're behaving.”
“You would think that person would spot early warning signs quicker than someone else because they’ve been through it.”
“I think it always helps when someone can diverge to your level I suppose and the maybe perhaps bring you up to a different level, I think that's nice.”