What is peer work?

Douglas Holmes, Consumer Participation Officer, Inner City Health Program, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney

What is peer work?

When we talk about peer work in the mental health context, we refer to a workforce that:

  • requires the qualification of lived experience of mental illness and recovery, with its understanding of what people using mental health services and their families and carers experience
  • is evidence-based
  • complements the skill and expertise of other mental health professionals with skills and expertise learned from the personal experience of mental illness and recovery.

Peer work is key to embedding person-first, recovery-oriented and trauma-informed approaches in mental health services.

What is a peer worker?

A mental health peer worker is someone employed on the basis of their personal lived experience of mental illness and recovery (consumer peer worker), or their experience of supporting family or friends with mental illness (carer peer worker). This lived experience is an essential qualification for their job, in addition to other skills and experience required for the particular role they undertake.

When considering developing a peer workforce it is important to understand that the needs of consumers and carers are different and therefore the roles of consumer peer workers and carer peer workers are distinct.