Congressional Briefing Informs on the Value of Peer Support Services

“Peer support services work because we instill hope.” That’s the message from Olga Wuerz, an army veteran and certified peer specialist, during a congressional briefing held today by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

Echoing that message, DBSA president Allen Doederlein shared that by instilling hope through positive self-disclosure, peer support specialists can influence the path to recovery and wellness for individuals living with a mental health condition. Doederlein further stated that utilizing this evidence-based practice as a component of mental health care has been proven to achieve better outcomes, while at the same time lowering mental health care delivery costs.

Panelist Larry Davidson, Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and Director of the Program for Recovery and Community Health, has developed
extensive research on the role of peer services. He shared that modeling recovery for others not only connects people—who might otherwise not have received it—to care, but just as importantly supports better engagement in that care. According to Davidson, “Increased hope results in decreased depression and substance abuse and an increase in the ability for people to manage their own lives. With the support of peer specialists, people are able to move from passive hopelessness to active self-determination.”

Addressing the workforce shortage
Much has been written about the provider shortage, including on CFYM. Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, informed the audience that as more people become enrolled in health care, rural areas are experiencing a workforce crisis. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have inadequate or no mental health services.

One solution to the challenge, according to Manderscheid, is to more broadly incorporate peer support services. While there is a shortage of providers, there is no shortage of individuals living in wellness and recovery. Tapping into this wealth of resources should be considered. In fact, Manderscheid sees the day fast approaching when 25% of the behavioral health workforce will be peer support specialists. Making these services a reimbursable expense in both Medicaid and Medicare programs is a place to start. “Currently peer support services are a Medicaid reimbursable expense in 37 states, so we have a ways to go,” stated Manderscheid.

Effective Training
Peer specialists are a critical part of the services delivered by Magellan Healthcare, according to Tom Lane, Senior Director of Consumer and Recovery Services. “However, making certain that our staff has been appropriately trained is important,” Mr. Lane said.

Peer support services differ from the significant assistance offered by mutual support groups. Lisa Goodale, DBSA Peer Support Services Vice President, explained that peer support services are delivered by individuals who have been trained and certified through their states or healthcare systems (for example, the Department of Veterans Affairs). According to Goodale, these are services that require not only the lived experience of recovery from mental health conditions, but a solid grounding in peer support techniques and skills. Some of those skills include supporting others in regaining a sense of hope, problem-solving, effective listening, communication skills, and workplace ethics. Certification also requires peer specialists to demonstrate their competency through successful completion of a written exam following training and to maintain certification through continuing education, as is the case for other healthcare providers. Unlike peer support services, these training qualifications are not required for leading a mutual support group.

Let’s Make it Happen
“Until she heard my story, a VA participant volunteered that she had no hope,” Wuerz revealed. “Today, she participates in her own self-directed treatment plan at the VA hospital.”

Those remarks are just one testament to the value of peer support services. So how do we make sure that this evidence-based solution is available? DBSA made three policy recommendations to the audience. Advocate for

  • Medicaid reimbursement for peer support services in all 50 states, not only the current 37
  • Inclusion of peer support services as an Affordable Care Act (ACA) essential health benefit
  • Expansion of current Veterans Affairs programs to increase the number and location of peer support services offered

CFYM will keep you aware of advocacy efforts at the national, state, and local level and provide you with concrete steps you can take when appropriate. In the meantime subscribe to the DBSA advocacy platform to learn more.

Questions

  • In what ways have peer support services assisted with your mental health recovery?
  • If you are a peer support specialist, how do you think peer support services can become more accessible to people living with mood disorders?
  • What role do you envision peer support services having in the mental health care system?

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