Summary

Peer support is an important component of community support systems. Peer support is offered both through self-help groups and various forms of peer-delivered services. These services include peer-operated programs, and the purposeful inclusion of peer employees in professionally run PsyR programs. While the body of research on the outcomes of self-help and peer-provided services has yet to offer conclusive evidence, it seems clear that people with psychiatric disabilities gain some unique benefits from participation in peer support initiatives. Peer providers themselves, and the nonconsumer staff who they work with, also seem to benefit from these programs. However, there are also a number of challenges faced by peer providers and their colleagues and it is important to address these challenges by providing appropriate supports and training opportunities.

Persons who have severe mental illnesses play other important roles in mental health systems as well. They act as policy makers, advocates, researchers, and board members. Their input into how PsyR services are provided is essential to the development of a truly consumer-driven mental health system. Such input helps to ensure consumer satisfaction and contributes to the protection of the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. It is essential for psychiatric rehabilitation providers who are not diagnosed with a mental illness to learn to work in conjunction with the various types of peer providers, activists, and policy makers and to recognize all of the valuable roles that they can play in transforming mental health systems.

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