Peer support is an evidence-based service model used in many different sectors across British Columbia. The purpose of this document is to outline the way peer support has commonly been used in B.C., including by health authorities and community-based organizations. We will also look at the different ways it is currently being utilized in post-secondary institutions and share some ideas and guidelines for integrating peer support in existing student service programs.
In 2021, the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and BCcampus released the Provincial Peer Support Worker Training Program (written by Jenn Cusick) for mental health and substance use peer support workers. The Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum, and this document, are adapted from that training.
Currently, most health authorities in B.C. and several non-profits have included peer support in their service delivery for people with mental health and substance use issues. Though the aforementioned training was written for mental health and substance use community programs, peer support is also becoming more common in workplaces. There are peer support programs available for first responders, and others working in high stress jobs. There are also peer support programs or groups in B.C. for people struggling with eating disorders as well as health issues including cancer and diabetes.
This training is inline with the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s National Standard for Mental Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students.
A Note on the History of Peer Support
“Peer-developed peer support is a non-hierarchical approach with origins in informal self-help and consciousness-raising groups organized in the 1970s by people in the ex-patients’ movement. It arose in reaction to negative experiences with mental health treatment and dissatisfaction with the limits of the mental patient role. Peer support among people with psychiatric histories is closely intertwined with experiences of powerlessness within the mental health system and with activism promoting human rights and alternatives to the medical model.” (Darby Penney, 2018) *
If you are a peer support worker, know that you are a part of an international movement with a rich and powerful history. It is a history to be uncovered, studied, and revered. The movement has had a huge impact on shifting mental health and substance use systems toward becoming more recovery-focused today.