The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) broadly defines peer support as “any organised support provided by and for people with mental health problems” (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2009, p. 1).
Peer support initiatives include “programs, networks, agencies or services that provide peer support. They can be:
Funded OR unfunded;
Use volunteers, paid staff OR both;
Operate out of psychiatric consumer/survivor run organizations OR other agencies;
Delivered by a group of peers OR by an individual peer in a team of professionals;
A primary activity of the initiative OR a secondary benefit, such as in a consumer/survivor businesses” (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2009, p. 1); or
“Part of an indigenous healing ritual” (O’Hagan, Cyr, McKee & Priest, 2010, p. 42).
While mainstream mental health treatments (e.g., psychotherapy, pharmaceutical therapy) and interventions (e.g., motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioural therapy) are central to managing a person’s mental illness, so too are the important influences of personal resourcefulness, personal support and self-belief in their recovery (O’Hagan, Cyr, McKee & Priest, 2010).
Peer support can help to minimize the power imbalance that exists between health-care providers and health-care recipients, and reduce social isolation and shame experienced by those with mental illness (Elliott, n.d.). In recognition of this, there is a movement underway to develop formalized peer support workers in Canada as a credible adjunct to the treatment of and recovery from mental illness (O’Hagan et al., 2010).
The Operational Stress Injury Social Support project, developed by Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence, helps Canadian soldiers to recover from stress injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (Grenier, 2002). Encouraged by the success of this initiative, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in partnership with others, has launched a new peer support project that “aims to develop guidelines in support of peer support that include curricula for peer support workers that lead to formal qualification.” (O’Hagan, Cyr, McKee & Priest, 2010).
This formalization of peer support, in addition to informal peer support relationships, will bring increased credibility to a promising practice with an emerging evidence base that demonstrates positive outcomes in the following areas:
“reductions in hospitalizations
reductions in symptom distress
improvements in social support
improvements in quality of life” (Canadian Mental Health Association, et al., 2005, p. 6).
The continued support, expertise and leadership of nurses working in mental health settings is crucial to advancing peer support as an important part of the journey toward recovery.
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario; Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs; & Ontario Peer Development Initiative. (2005). Consumer/Survivor Initiatives: Impact, outcomes & effectiveness . Toronto: Authors. Retrieved from http://www.ontario.cmha.ca/admin_ver2/maps/csi200504.pdf
The next move: leading interprofessional collaboration
Collaborative practice is becoming the norm but to achieve this goal changes are needed in attitudes, in operations and in systems. We all have to recognize the importance of working with government, unions, regulators and other stakeholders.
Influenza is a serious illness that disproportionately affects certain populations who have a higher risk of complications. Influenza immunization, as the most effective method of preventing the flu, allows health-care workers to protect themselves, their families and those in their care.
Have You Thought About the Social Determinants of Health?
The health of Canadians is not shaped primarily by the medical treatments they receive or the lifestyle choices they make but by the living conditions they experience. These conditions have come to be known as the social determinants of health.
The resources within this section are offered to inform your cultural awareness, competency, and safety so as to enhance your capabilities to work with your clients in addressing their health and wellness needs