Peer support services are delivered by individuals who have common life experiences with the people they are serving. People with mental and/or substance use disorders have a unique capacity to help each other based on a shared affiliation and a deep understanding of this experience. In self-help and mutual support, people offer this support, strength, and hope to their peers, which allows for personal growth, wellness promotion, and recovery.
Research has shown that peer support facilitates recovery and reduces health care costs. Peers also provide assistance that promotes a sense of belonging within the community. The ability to contribute to and enjoy one’s community is key to recovery and well-being. Another critical component that peers provide is the development of self-efficacy through role modeling and assisting peers with ongoing recovery through mastery of experiences and finding meaning, purpose, and social connections in their lives.
SAMHSA’s Recovery Community Services Program (RCSP) advances recovery by providing peer recovery support services across the nation. These services help prevent relapse and promote sustained recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders. For more information, visit SAMHSA’s What Are Peer Recovery Support Services? – 2009.
Through the RCSP, SAMHSA recognizes that social support includes informational, emotional, and intentional support. Examples of peer recovery support services include:
- Peer mentoring or coaching—developing a one-on-one relationship in which a peer leader with recovery experience encourages, motivates, and supports a peer in recovery
- Peer recovery resource connecting—connecting the peer with professional and nonprofessional services and resources available in the community
- Recovery group facilitation—facilitating or leading recovery-oriented group activities, including support groups and educational activities
- Building community—helping peers make new friends and build healthy social networks through emotional, instrumental, informational, and affiliation types of peer support
In 1997, SAMHSA hosted the first in a series of dialogue meetings for mental health peers and representatives from other groups to promote recovery and improve the behavioral health system. The dialogue meetings have led to positive developments, including advances in collaboration, product development, training initiatives, and technical assistance. Resources developed from those dialogue meetings include:
Through the Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS), SAMHSA supports peer-run organizations and recovery community organizations in their efforts to promote recovery and improve collaboration. BRSS TACS major activities include:
- Awarding subcontracts on a competitive basis to support peer-run organizations, recovery community organizations, states, territories, and tribes in their efforts to promote recovery and improve collaboration across stakeholders
- Conducting expert panels in key areas of interest to share knowledge, point to gaps in understanding, and develop recommendations for future activities to promote recovery supports
- Providing training and technical assistance through telephone consultations, email resources, peer learning, webcasts, distance learning, and knowledge products
- Developing resources, including webinars, online learning tools, and a Recovery Resource Library
SAMHSA has encouraged the development of several organizations that focus on young people in recovery: Youth M.O.V.E. (Youth Motivating Others through Voices of Experience) was developed by youth and young adults who experienced mental health challenges. This is a nation-wide peer movement with more than 75 chapters across the United States. It includes Young People in Recovery (YPR), which was created and is run by young people who have experienced addictions and substance use issues.
SAMHSA’s Recovery to Practice Initiative (RTP) incorporates the vision of recovery into the everyday practice of mental health professionals in several disciplines. RTP trainings include Peer-Delivered Services training to improve the knowledge and skills of peer-providers.
Recovery for individuals with behavioral health conditions is greatly enhanced by social connection. Yet, many people with mental and/or substance use disorders are not fully engaged in their communities either through personal relationships, social events, or civic activities. Unfortunately, many individuals often remain socially isolated and excluded. Negative perceptions, prejudice, and discrimination contribute to the social exclusion of people living with behavioral health disorders.
People living with mental and/or substance use conditions can increase social connections greatly when they have access to recovery-oriented services and establish positive relationships with family and friends. Greater social connections lead to improved economic, educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities that are generally available.
In a socially inclusive society, people in recovery have the opportunity and necessary supports to contribute to their community as citizens, parents, employees, students, volunteers, and leaders. Prevention activities help create communities in which people have an improved quality of life that includes healthier environments at work and in school, and supportive neighborhoods and work environments. Social connections and understanding also help people in recovery from addictions benefit from alcohol- and tobacco-free activities in the community.