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Peer Support: Research and Reports

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Peer support has existed in behavioral health for decades. Its rapid growth in recent years is for good reason. Research and experience show that peer support specialists have a transformative effect on both individuals and systems. Peer support has been shown to:

  • Improve quality of life,
  • Improve engagement and satisfaction with services and supports,
  • Improve whole health, including chronic conditions like diabetes,
  • Decrease hospitalizations and inpatient days, and
  • Reduce the overall cost of services

Peer support empowers people to make the best decisions for them and to strive towards their goals in their communities. Peers are an essential component of recovery-focused systems and are key across settings and stages of recovery.

Peer support is recognized as an evidence-based practice for individuals with mental health conditions or challenges. Quantitative and qualitative evidence indicates that peer support:

  • lowers the overall cost of mental health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and the days spent in inpatient services;
  • increases the use of outpatient services;
  • improves a person’s quality of life;
  • increases and improves engagement with services; and
  • increases whole health and self-management.

Evidence for Peer Support, Mental Health America (2019)

Revisiting the Rationale and Evidence for Peer Support, Psychiatric Times (2018)

Value of Peers, SAMHSA (2017)

Peer Support Services Improve Clinical Outcomes by Fostering Recovery and Promoting Empowerment, Optum (2016)

Lessons from Peer Support Among Individuals with Mental Health Difficulties: A Review of the Literature, Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health (2012)

Peer support among persons with severe mental illnesses: a review of evidence and experience, World Psychiatry (2012)

Best Practices Identified for Peer Support Programs, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury (2011)

Peer support specialists provide the essential service of helping persons live with a chronic illness. This is different from treating the illness and takes a different investment of time and effort. Mental Health America has compiled a database of current research related to the support of peers as a needed and beneficial paid services in mental health systems.

Peer-supported self-management for people discharged from a mental health crisis team: a randomized controlled trial, Lancet (2018)

The Effectiveness of a Peer-Staffed Crisis Respite Program as an Alternative to Hospitalization, Psychiatric Services (2018)

Survey of Peer Support Specialists: Professional Activities, Self-Rated Skills, Job Satisfaction, and Financial Well-being, Psychiatric Services (2018)

Emerging Roles for Peer Providers in Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2018)

Peer Workers in the Behavioral and Integrated Health Workforce: Opportunities and Future Directions, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2018)

Peer Support Toolkit, City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (2017)

Best Practices for Effectively Integrating Peer Staff in the Workplace, New York State Office of Mental Health (2017)

National Survey of Compensation Among Peer Support Specialists, The College for Behavioral Health Leadership (2016)

Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support, Mental Health Commission of Canada (2016)

Peer Specialist Training & Certification Programs: National Overview 2016, Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin (2016)

Enhancing the Peer Provider Workforce: Recruitment, Supervision, and Retention, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (2014)

Advocating and Planning for a Behavioral Health Peer Support Program, Peers for Progress (2014)

Meaningful Roles for Peer Providers in Integrated Healthcare: A Guide, California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies (2014)

Benefits of Working as Certified Peer Specialist: Results from a Statewide Survey, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (2013)

National Practice Guidelines for Peer Supporters, International Association of Peer Supporters (2013)

Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance Use Conditions: Quality Chasm Series, National Academies Press (2006)

Consumer Operated Services Program (COSP) Multisite Research Initiative Overview and Preliminary Findings, Missouri Institute of Mental Health (2004)

Perceptions of Supervisors of Peer Support Workers (PSW) in Behavioral Health: Results from a National Survey, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine (2021)

Naturally Occurring Peer Support through Social Media, PLoS ONE (2014)

Digital Peer Support Mental Health Interventions for People With a Lived Experience of a Serious Mental Illness: Systematic Review, JMIR Mental Health (2020)

Text Message Exchanges between Older Adults With Serious Mental Illness and Older Certified Peer Specialists in a Smartphone-Supported Self-Management Intervention, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (2019)

Smartphone Ownership, Use, and Willingness to Use Smartphones to Provide Peer-Delivered Services: Results from a National Online Survey, The Psychiatric Quarterly (2018)

The Future of Peer Support in Digital Psychiatry: Promise, Progress, and Opportunities, Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry (2019)

Feasibility, Acceptability, and Preliminary Effectiveness of a Peer-Delivered and Technology Supported Self-Management Intervention for Older Adults with Serious Mental Illness, Psychiatr Q (2018)

Peer Support: a Human Factor to Enhance Engagement in Digital Health Behavior Change Interventions, Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science (2019)

Application of Community-Engaged Research to Inform the Development and Implementation of a Peer-Delivered Mobile Health Intervention for Adults With Serious Mental Illness, Journal Of Participatory Medicine (2019)

Integration of Peer Philosophy into a Standardized Self-Management Mobile Health Intervention, Psychiatr Q (2018)

A Future Research Agenda for Digital Geriatric Mental Healthcare, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (2019)

Naturally Occurring Peer Support through Social Media, PLoS ONE (2014)

Unmet Needs of People with Serious Mental Illness: Perspectives from Certified Peer Specialists, Psychiatric Quarterly (2019)

Effect of Layperson Empathy Focused Program on Loneliness During the Pandemic, Jama Psychiatry (2021)

Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Rural and Urban People with Disabilities, University of Montana (2021)

Key findings:

  • People with disabilities report more than double the rates of social isolation and loneliness than people without disabilities.
  • Structural barriers related to employment and transportation may play a role in social isolation and loneliness disparities among people with disabilities.