Peer support among persons with severe mental illnesses: a review of evidence and experience

World Psychiatry. 2012 Jun;11(2):123-8. doi: 10.1016/j.wpsyc.2012.05.009.


Peer support is largely considered to represent a recent advance in community mental health, introduced in the 1990s as part of the mental health service user movement. Actually, peer support has its roots in the moral treatment era inaugurated by Pussin and Pinel in France at the end of the 18th century, and has re-emerged at different times throughout the history of psychiatry. In its more recent form, peer support is rapidly expanding in a number of countries and, as a result, has become the focus of considerable research. Thus far, there is evidence that peer staff providing conventional mental health services can be effective in engaging people into care, reducing the use of emergency rooms and hospitals, and reducing substance use among persons with co-occurring substance use disorders. When providing peer support that involves positive self-disclosure, role modeling, and conditional regard, peer staff have also been found to increase participants' sense of hope, control, and ability to effect changes in their lives; increase their self-care, sense of community belonging, and satisfaction with various life domains; and decrease participants' level of depression and psychosis.

Keywords: Peer support; empathy; recovery; role modeling; self-disclosure.