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CPS Blog: Working Collaboratively to Support Peer Employees

May 1, 2018

By Julian Plumadore, Community Engagement Manager at Mental Health Association of San Francisco

Despite the many challenges our mental health care system faces, something positive is happening right before our eyes.

Peer employment is poised to change the system as we know it. Current estimates suggest that within the next 5 years, people with lived experience of mental health challenges will make up 20% of the mental health workforce. Employers are embracing this change and seeking to hire peer employees in record numbers. But to do so effectively, they need help. Peer-run mental health organizations can provide the support employers need to succeed.

The process of recruiting, hiring, and retaining peer staff can be radically different from bringing clinical professionals on board, and even employers with the best intentions often don’t know how best to proceed. They may not know where to find qualified peers, how to navigate hiring peers who may have lots of lived experience but not much professional experience, or how to support and retain those peers once they’re hired.

Even well-intentioned employers may bring outdated, incorrect, or stigmatizing assumptions to the process. They may see peer roles, and even peers themselves, as interchangeable. Or they may see hiring peers as a cheaper option, not recognizing the investment of money, time, and energy it takes to successfully integrate peers into an existing team – and to keep them there.

So what can peer-run organizations do to smooth the transition to a peer-welcoming workforce for employers and peers alike?

Well, even if we don’t always recognize it, we’re experts on the subject – and employers value that expertise. We know the peer perspective from all sides, and often we can point out areas where employers’ knowledge may be lacking. We can take what we know works and doesn’t work from our experiences as peer workers ourselves, as well as what we’ve learned and implemented successfully from a management perspective and bring those together to offer organizational peer support to our community partners in mental health.

In years to come, peers will have an unprecedented opportunity to change the way the U.S. views mental health services and supports. But to fully realize this change, their employers will need strong leadership from peer-run organizations to guide them. By reaching out and forming collaborative partnerships with insurers, behavioral healthcare providers, and others in the field, we can ensure they have the tools they need so that peer employees and the communities they serve can thrive.

For more information on how your organization can take part in this dynamic change, join representatives from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco at the Mental Health America Annual Conference pre-conference day for a presentation and discussion on their new toolkit, Successfully Integrating Peer Staff: A Toolkit for Mental Health Employers, as part of MHA's Paying for Peers presentation.


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