An Orygen study conducted at headspace Gosford has shown peer support assists both youth peer workers (YPW) and clients.
The aim of the study was to explore the motivations, experiences and beliefs of YPW while focusing on the barriers and enablers that might affect successfully integrating YPW into youth mental health services.
Focus groups were held with YPW at the beginning, midway and at the end of the 6-month project, tracking the experiences of youth peer workers over time.
The study, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, revealed three main findings.
For YPW, there was a trajectory from fear to hope; there was an improved understanding of the purpose and benefits of the youth peer work role; and youth peer workers gained a better understanding of how their shared experiences were a primary asset to other young people and the service.
Orygen’s youth partnerships in research coordinator, and lead author of the study, Dr Magenta Simmons explained that youth peer workers were young people employed to provide emotional support, guidance, education, and advocacy to other young people.
“Peer support is associated with benefits for clients and peer workers themselves.
“Compared to clinical staff, peer workers are better able to promote hope, recovery, and empowerment,” said Dr Simmons.
The study also identified known barriers to implementing peer work in youth mental health settings.
Youth peer workers are required to be young in order to do their job but that puts them at risk of disproportionately low job confidence, Dr Simmons said.
“Services really need to be set up to help support youth peer workers, and they need to get advice from experienced peer workers before, during and after they set up a program,” she said.
“They should make sure that peer workers are clear about their role; they should be offered youth-specific peer work training and supervision by an experienced peer worker, and services should make sure their non-peer staff understand and value their contributions.”
Dr Simmons said one of the barriers for YPW was professional stigma, that they get treated differently to non-peer colleagues.
“This is not about molly-coddling YPW, it’s about respecting them as professional colleagues and providing appropriate support as needed, as should be available to all staff members.
“YPW do great work to help young people in ways that non-peers can't. It's a new and innovative model of care that's starting to really take off in youth mental health services.”
But, services need to adapt when implementing YPW programs.
“We need to ensure that there is adequate training, change management and tailored support strategies to maximise the chances of successful youth peer work programs,” Dr Simmons said.
Funding for this research was provided by headspace National Office Service Innovation project.