Peer work in youth mental health services needs dedicated national support: report

Peer work in youth mental health services needs dedicated national support: report

19 August 2020

Although peer work is increasingly recognised as a valuable component of youth mental health care, there remain several persistent barriers to growing and supporting the youth peer workforce in Australia, a report from Orygen has found.

The report, Side by side: supporting youth peer work in mental health services, found that although the mental health peer workforce has strong commitment from state, territory and national governments, tailored support for youth peer workers is required to ensure the workforce is adequately and appropriately supported as it grows.

To build a sustainable and well supported youth peer workforce the report’s authors recommend:

  • development of nationally consistent guidance by the National Mental Health Commission and youth mental health organisations on the job responsibilities and recommended employment conditions for the youth mental health peer workforce;
  • a clear commitment to growing the youth peer workforce from state and territory mental health plans and PHN commissioning processes;
  • developing a national peer work organisation to ensure national standards; and,
  • increasing the supports, recognition and representation of the peer workforce nationally.

Nicholas Fava, a policy analyst at Orygen said peer workers bring a valued and unique perspective to youth mental health services, providing emotional and social support to others based on a shared experience of mental ill-health.

“There are now numerous mental health services that employ youth peer workers,” Mr Fava said. “However, this report shows that if we are to meet the demand for large growth and sustainability of the youth peer workforce, we need to do a lot more to ensure that workers are supported and their goals nurtured.”

The report found that although several frameworks and guidelines exist to support the peer workforce generally, there are a number of unique concerns for youth peer workers that need to be addressed. These include the time-limited nature of their roles due to their age, the associated impacts on training and professional development needs, career progression and long-term job opportunities.

Dr Magenta Simmons, co-author of the report said youth peer work had been advocated for in the preliminary findings from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health.

“If our goal is to ensure that the peer workforce remains robust, we must consider how to address the unique barriers faced by youth peer workers,” she said.

Nic Juniper, a peer support work specialist at Orygen, said youth peer work was an invaluable part of mental health support for young people. Not only does it provide space for people to share their diverse truths with other like-minded individuals, but it provides pathways to those who may be discriminated against when seeking employment.

“I never thought that I would be able to hold down a real job, but now my lived experience, the thing that I feared most when finding work, is seen as expertise, and I can bring my whole self to my work,” Nic said.

Mr Fava said having youth peer workers in mental health services brought tremendous benefits, not just for the young person but for the service they were working with. “We need to harness and grow this knowledge and expertise,” Mr Fava said.“To do this, we need a consistent national approach to supporting and building youth peer work in mental health service.”