Mental Health Peer Workforce Development

The Fourth National Mental Health Plan (2009) has two actions directly relevant to peer (ie, consumer and carer) workforce development:

Action 25: Develop and commence implementation of a National Mental Health Workforce Strategy that defines standardized workforce competencies and roles in clinical, community and peer support areas.

Action 26: Increase consumer and carer employment in clinical and community support settings.

As at early 2013, these activities are now being progressed though the Health Workforce Australia (HWA) Mental Health Workforce Reform Project Advisory Group (PAG). 

What is the mental health peer workforce?

The peer workforce refers to people employed in job roles that require them to identify as being, or having been, mental health consumers or carers. The term peer workforce is used to reflect the diversity of the consumer worker and carer worker job roles in Australia (e.g. Peer Support Worker, Consumer Advocate, Consumer Consultant, Carer Representative, Carer Advocate, Consumer or Carer Team Leader/Manager, Consumer/Carer Educator/Trainer, Consumer/Carer Researcher/Evaluater etc).

In early 2013, the National Mental Health Commission funded Community Mental Health Australia (CMHA) to develop the learning and assessment resources for the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work. MHCC are coordinating this Mental Health Peer Worker Qualification Development Project. More information on this project is available here.

Key issues that need to be addressed

  • What is currently known about the peer workforce in Australia?
  • What is best practice in peer work (Australia, international)?
  • What issues exist for the Australian peer workforce and what are priority development areas?
  • What competencies and skills are needed for peer work?

According to leading expert Larry Fricks, there is enough evidence to show that peer support is more effective than a number of other programs offered to consumers. This has caused a growing trend in the USA to direct mental health funding to peer support services and to developing a peer workforce.

The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified consumer operated services (COS) - including peer work - as evidence based practice (EBP). SAMHSA asked consumer activist Shery Mead to develop a COS EBP ToolKIT (Knowledge Informing Transformation). The KIT includes the following documents and copies can be downloaded below:

A  national forum on the Mental Health Peer Workforce was held in Sydney on 22 February 2011 to address the issues identified above and look at ways of developing the peer workforce. The Forum was an opportunity for over 180 people made up mostly of consumer and carer peer workers from each State and Territory to get together for the first time and provide feedback on this critical movement.

For more information about mental health peer workforce development please contact Tina Smith, Senior Policy Officer