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Peer Support is Instrumental in Recovery

As the incident of mental illness continues to surge, we are finding evidence that preventative health is as important as treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2013, there were an estimated 43.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. with a mental illness in the past year. This represented 18.5 percent of all U.S. adults. A point in the argument for preventative medicine is the idea that the implementation of peer support within various professional and societal facets may reduce the progression of mental illness. Now while the necessity of professional mental health resources is unquestionable, studies reveal “…peer support might be useful in decreasing rates of hospitalization and days spent in the hospital for persons with histories of multiple hospitalizations. Peer support stands as a supplement to the current alcohol treatment services with the peer acting as a bridge between the clients and other staff and also as a motivator.

Peer support is also vital in the recovery process of substance abuse. It is believed that “…people who have faced, endured, and overcome [this] adversity can offer useful support, encouragement, hope, and perhaps mentor-ships to others facing similar situations”. There are many ways peer support can be structured in the addiction community; some institutions have it as peer run programs such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous while others have peers as part of more formal treatment team.

Peer support is also integral part of therapeutic communities. “Having a relationship based on abstinence not only provides reinforcement for the individual who often has limited relationships outside of those based on [substance] use in early recovery, but also provides a valued social position for the mentor who is seen as a role model to help achieve and sustain abstinence”. The struggling addict has a role model to help through the treatment of substance abuse while the mentor has a reason to stay sober and abstinent. The gain and positive yield of this relationship runs both ways.

Timing of access is also critical as studies show peer support is best started early within an addict’s treatment plan. “… the mentor has the ability to connect with the mentee early when the mentee is struggling [thus] circumventing a further decline in the mentee’s functioning due to lack of support (Tracy et. al, 2012). Regardless of whether peer support is being used for the treatment of mental health or substance abuse, the best conceptualization of peer support is found to be“… persons who have a history of illness and who have experienced significant improvements offering services and/or supports to other people who are not as far along in their own recovery process”. The recovered helping the recovering.

In 2006, to test the benefits of peer support, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), an American federal agency, conducted a study in the schizophrenic community.  In this study, participants were randomly selected to receive intensive case management with or without the added benefit of a peer specialist. “The primary outcome of this study was that participants who were assigned to peer specialists and who were rated as most un-engaged at baseline showed significantly increased contacts with providers [compared] with decreasing contacts for participants in the [other group] over the same period”. Participants who had the extra benefit of a peer specialist went on to report feeling more liked and understood by their providers.

Peer support is not exclusive to solely to the mentally ill or struggling drug addict; it is also important in general society. In stressful work professions, i.e. police officers, firefighters, paramedics etc., peer support can be used as a tool to lessen the effects of a stressful encounter and studies “…suggests that social support from colleagues may mitigate the impact of traumatic events more than non-work support” (Lowery .& Stokes, 2005). The ability to share coping methods and strategies are especially beneficial and exemplary coming from an experienced colleague.

Peer support, though overlooked, is a vital part of treatment of both mental illness and substance abuse. Implemented properly, it can improve the participation of the client while giving a preview of what life can be after treatment. In the general society, it can be protective in nature, providing an outlet for stress and emotions.


Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, an accredited and licensed drug and alcohol rehab center like Northlake Recovery Center in South Florida can help. Learn more about mental illness by visiting this study. Our evidence-based therapy model effectively heals the mind of an addict and gives them the best possible chance of a recovery. Call us today at (561)-770-6616 to get a free benefit analysis of your health insurance plan.

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