peersupport2Using peer support workers to help people with mental illness to recover can add significant value to mental health services, sometimes at no extra cost, new research has revealed.

The research, published in 2 papers, examined the value peer support workers – including paid staff and volunteers working in the public, independent and voluntary sectors – can have on mental health services and service users. Peer support workers draw on their own experiences of mental illness and support others using services in their own recovery journeys.

Peer support workers: theory and practice, published by the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) programme – a joint initiative from the NHS Confederation's Mental Health Network and the Centre for Mental Health – sets out the spectrum for peer support in mental health services, which can range from naturally occurring through to formal employment.

It also includes a ‘checklist’ of core principles for a peer support service, as well as an examination of the wide variety of benefits a peer support service can deliver.

Peer support teams 'get massive advantages'
ImROC programme director, Geoff Shepherd, said: “The value of peer support is something that can be hard to measure in numbers alone, but we do know that the benefits are manifold - the peer support workers themselves benefit hugely, and the service users too, but [this] publication also shines a light on the beneficial impact well beyond the direct interactions.

“The research behind our paper shows that the teams in which peer support workers are employed get massive advantages in terms of their recovery-focus, and this positive impact is also felt through the wider organisations. It does need more research but it is definitely something recovery-focused mental health services would benefit from exploring further.”
In addition, the Centre for Mental Health has published a detailed analysis of the financial case for investment in peer support worker schemes.

Costs and savings of peer supprt
Peer support in mental health care: is it good value for money? analysed the costs and savings of peer support worker schemes and looked at savings generated by reductions on inpatient bed use.

It found that using peer support workers had strong potential to deliver cost savings while simultaneously delivering a range of health and social benefits.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of Centre for Mental Health, said: "There is persuasive evidence that employing peer support workers can enhance a mental health service and its focus on recovery.

"[This] research shows that there is also emerging evidence that the use of peer support workers may result in overall cost savings: that the financial benefits of peer support can substantially exceed its costs."