Peer work unpacked – roles and functions

Peer work unpacked – roles and functions

Peer workers can work across a number of areas in the mental health system, in public, community and private settings. Their most common role is peer support, directly supporting people experiencing mental illness, or their family and carers, by sharing their lived experience. But peer workers also work across the mental health system in management, advocacy and representation; as consultants and advisers; to promote health; to educate and train; as supervisors; or to undertake quality, auditing and research. Specialist peer work positions may also be created for different population groups, including, for example young people, older people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and forensic patients.

Peer workers support people in their recovery and caring journey as well as improving the capacity of services and systems to do the same. The range of roles and functions a peer worker may undertake is growing, but an indicative list is provided below.

Peer work roles and functions

Individual advocacy

Assisting with resolving issues at an individual level. For example, assisting someone to ask about medication issues, or to access social housing; or assisting a family member to obtain the Carer Payment and other entitlements.

Peer support

Helping to restore hope and personal power and inspire people to move forward with their lives. For example, sharing stories of recovery with a person using mental health services, facilitating a carer peer support group.

Systemic advocacy

Attempting to resolve collective issues at an organisational, systemic and/or community level. For example, advocating for changes to regulations or processes involved with the Disability Support Pension.

Health promotion

Assisting with improved mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, and physical health. For example, physical health coaching or supporting access to health and fitness services in the community.

Education and training

Providing education from a lived experience perspective for consumer and carers, people working in mental health services and/or general community members. For example co-producing and co-facilitating courses with other mental health professionals in education settings.

Evaluation and research

Leading or co-producing research projects in areas that impact on lived experience. For example, researching the impact of peer support for family and friends; or effective models of support for different age groups or culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Coordination and management

Coordinating service delivery, managing budgets and other resources, and managing peer workers and other staff. For example managing businesses or private services, or working in management and coordination positions in public, private or non-government organisations.

Practice supervision

Providing coaching, mentoring or supervision to other peer workers as well as to others working in mental health services. This might be provided internally or sourced from external agencies or private providers.

Participation and service quality auditing

Providing lived experience perspectives in teams that audit mental health service quality. For example, auditing compliance with National Standards for Mental Health Services.