Valuing Peer Support in the Workforce: the Bottom Line
Hi, my name is John. I am a peer recovery specialist in the state of Iowa, with experience in mental health recovery and training in ASIST (Applies Suicide Intervention Skills Training) and at this moment certified as a W.R.A.P (Wellness recovery action Plan) facilitator. I’ve been working for more than 25 years and have been part of the peer support community for the last 4. In my years in the workforce, I have realized how important work environment is for mental health. As a peer recovery specialist, I have personal experience within the peer employment environment. There are 7 key traits of the work environment that can impact mental health, for better or worse, that I have noticed and would like to share with you.
During the Covid-19 virus shutdown and when isolation was in effect, people like you and I- the average people of America- all learned that mental health mattered more than quite a few people have wanted to admit for quite a while. The increased attention to mental health also provided a change within peer support; there is more demand now that consumers and providers realize the important work we do. However, because the services we provide for our peers are becoming more popular, it’s important to know how the environment we work in impacts the work we do.
3 POSITIVE KEY THINGS
The first three traits I want to go over are situations I have been in that lead to a more positive work environment.
- Helping others find recovery from situations that are like what you might have dealt with or found recovery from is extremely rewarding. This website goes into more ways the career is rewarding. “From my personal experience providing peer support, I have had many rewarding experiences; I’d like to tell you about one. My coworkers and I were given the opportunity to meet a young individual who was on SSI, had been neglected by their guardian, and was struggling with depression. We worked together so this person could learn new skills to cope with stress related to being on their own, managing their depressive symptoms, and setting a personal goal of becoming independent. It took months of hard work to find resources and collaborate with their services to fill out documents and gain a full understanding of the meaning of guardianship. We were able to help them find and implement wellness tools for stressful situations as well as support them as they became more comfortable opening up with others. They achieved their goals: they were able to stop relying on the SSI- and its income and asset restrictions; they found a full-time job with health insurance; they were living on their own, fully independent.
- Simply working as a peer support professional can be a reminder of how you overcame an obstacle in your life, be it mental illness or addiction. This daily reminder, I’ve noticed, can be used a wellness tool in times where you need some extra support. After all, when you help others, you help yourself.
- Since recovery is a lifelong journey, helping people navigate around situations and keeping them on their journey is rewarding. Having reminders of the support you are providing people is a fantastic way to boost your own wellness and recovery journey, especially when you get the opportunity to watch a peer find their way to recovery.
3 NEGATIVE KEY THINGS
On the other side of the positive, I have noticed 3 negative situations that impact the work environment, and in turn affect mental health as a peer support.
- On their website, Mental Health America points out that peer support is a cost-saving service, not because of “cheap Labor” but because of preventing individuals from needing expensive treatments and hospital stays. However, even though there is a plethora of evidence suggesting the overall benefit of having peer support professionals, many of these same professionals do not make a living wage. There is, unfortunately, also a lack of career growth opportunities provided by supervisors and employers currently.
- In Iowa specifically, a living wage is around $16.18 with a salary of $33,600 (before any taxes are taken out). However, Iowa only requires a minimum wage of $7.25. The average for peer support in Iowa is a wage of $14.56 an hour, according to ZipRecruiter. Some places pay $10-12 an hour at the maximum wage, with most people working less than 40 hours per week (sometimes much less, to the tune of about 25 hours a week), at times with no overtime opportunities or holiday pay benefits. Having low wages like these normalized within the community means it’s more likely peer support professionals may need multiple jobs just to put food on the table.
- Unfortunately, burnout is very real within the full population of mental health professionals. The authors of this study found that potentially more than 50% of mental health workers experience burnout, with evidence suggesting that community-based providers experience significantly higher levels of burnout than inpatient providers. The study also notes that it is low on peer support on emotional exhaustion and intention to change jobs but on the other hand it is moderately strong, a significant difference with emotional exhaustion and leaving the mental health industry itself.
Some places already reflect this worrying trend. When an employee encounters a workplace that doesn’t fit their needs, they will inevitably start looking for one that does. Whether they seek one with a healthier environment or one willing to embrace policy change to reflect the importance of the profession, we could be facing a shortage of peer support professionals altogether.
1 NEUTRAL KEY THING
Even with positive and negative traits to a work environment, there are some situations that are neither bad nor good to keep in mind as the need for peer support rises.
- A lot of medical employment providers don’t fully understand or want you to work as just peer support. Some try to put more responsibilities on your plate that are not related to the real peer support’s responsibilities in the profession. Luckily, with the rise of peer support communities, many professionals are able to refer to an established scope of practice, core values, and ethical guidelines; they are also usually provided with training that gives an opportunity to practice different scenarios.
Peer support can be one of the best choices for a future career while living in recovery. If you are a person who is in recovery from a mental or addiction problem, cares for others, want to help prevent people from dealing with similar situations and life events like yours, and is someone who wants to make a difference, peer support could be your best choice. While there are some environments that could negatively impact the mental health of the peer support professional, it’s important to note that the process of enacting broad, sweeping policy change is much like the path of recovery itself: long and winding, sometimes with obstacles.