The Impact of Peer Support
It seems that everywhere you turn, someone is talking about peer support, and the reason is simple: it works!
PSS has just completed a survey of participant outcomes in our Depression Recovery Groups (DRG) service—and I’ll share the results in a moment—but first let’s go back a few years. A pioneering 2008 peer support program based in New York resulted in a remarkable 71% reduction in hospital readmission, and follow-up studies of programs in Wisconsin and Tennessee found that peer support reduced days of hospitalization 44% and 73%, respectively.
These programs all featured in-person services that provided a wide variety of assistance as needed. Peer bridgers (as they were called in the New York program) helped to open bank accounts, learn bus routes, shop for groceries, and more, all with the goal of speeding recovery by helping the individual better integrate with society.
Here at PSS we specialize in online peer support, built on web conferencing. We don’t have the opportunity to provide the kind of extensive in-person support that these highly successful programs did, so we expected that our outcomes would be correspondingly more modest.
We were wrong. They were just as strong as the in-person outcomes.
Our participants reported a 69% drop in hospital readmission after attending DRG, which is very similar to the 71% drop from the New York program. The other outcomes we measured—emergency room use, urgent care treatment, physician treatment, and levels of depression—all showed 20-50% improvement as well.
We’ll publish more extensive results soon, but we do have a few thoughts about why online peer groups performed as well as in-person peer support.
First, we select highly skilled Certified Peer Specialists to be group leaders, we train them thoroughly, and we back them up with clinical supervision and anonymous post-session feedback.
Second, we structure each meeting to include evidence-based self-help content and materials, and reinforce the content with open discussion.
Finally, we offer our participants anonymous post-meeting feedback, which we use to improve our performance at every level.
We believe our focus on giving participants the tools they need to help themselves recover—in a structured, consistent environment—is what has led to the successful outcomes we see.
|References: New York study: http://www.nyaprs.org/peer-services/peer-bridger/
Wisconsin, Tennessee studies: Mental Health Weekly, March 21, 2011 (summarized here: http://www.power2u.org/creating-replicable-sustainable-peer-support-services.html)