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By Kelly A. Davis, MHA Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services, and Nathaniel Z. Counts, MHA Senior Policy Director

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a group that helps Congress oversee the federal government, issued a report on “Leading Practices for State Programs to Certify Peer Support Specialists.” For those who remember, peer support was one of Mental Health America’s (MHA’s) top priorities in the major mental health bill in 2016, which was passed as part of the 21st Century Cures Act. One of the provisions that MHA helped to develop was the report on best practices in peer support, which led to this GAO report – the first ever on peer support specialists.

The report consolidates findings from six states that are leading the way in peer support specialist certification. With feedback from state and national leaders, including MHA, it identifies and describes six practices for state certification programs including: systematic screening of applicants, in-person core training, physical health and wellness training, organizational preparation, continuing education, and peer leadership. It is an important resource for states looking to improve their certification programs and for the field as it continues to grow and expand.

MHA’s involvement and advocacy around the report reflect our belief in peers as a transformational force in improving outcomes for consumers and filling gaps in the behavioral health workforce. The report is part of our larger strategy for the expansion of peer support which includes the development of the first national advanced peer support certification and continued policy work to ensure greater federal support for peer specialists.

Last month, a provision MHA helped to develop was passed in the major opioid legislation, which directs GAO to build on today’s report by analyzing the impacts that these best practices have had on mental health outcomes and overall health care costs, further building the logic for paying for peers. In the next several years, MHA will work to finish enacting policy that ensure that the federal government sees peers as the essential part of the mental health workforce that they are – and pays them accordingly.

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