UGA assists in first assessment of peer support

People sitting together with faces cropped out

Researchers at the UGA School of Social Work are working with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to gauge the impact of peer support services across the state. (Photo by Laurie Anderson/UGA)

Individuals in recovery from addiction or mental illness often struggle with managing wellness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Without any assistance, many cycle back into hospitals, jails or homelessness. Georgia’s peer support program helps people achieve well-being and independence, and will soon benefit from work conducted by University of Georgia researchers.

Over the next 16 months, researchers at the UGA School of Social Work will develop an assessment tool, or measurement standard, that the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) can use to gauge peer support settings across the state. The project will help state policymakers identify and address service inequalities.

“This will be the first statewide assessment to look at all the different ways peer support is provided throughout the state,” said Orion Mowbray, associate professor of social work and principal investigator for the project. “We’re collecting data on the current system and will provide advice on how to better evaluate the peer support program.”

Peer specialists are persons in recovery who are trained and certified by the state to assist others who face similar problems. The support, say consumers who have used the service, can mean the difference between failure and success. Emerging research also indicates that individuals who receive help from certified peer specialists function better in society and have a better quality of life.

Mowbray and his team will assess both service providers and recipients, and will examine the impact of peer support on individual improvements, the various ways peer support is used, the efficacy of forensic peer support—i.e. support for persons involved with the criminal justice system—and the experiences of certified peer specialists in the workplace.

“To date we’ve been able to collect mostly qualitative data as it relates to peer support service,” said Tony Sanchez, director of DBHDD’s Office of Recovery Transformation. “This opportunity to partner with UGA will add the quantitative data that will complement the existing information and truly show the impact of peer support service in Georgia.”

Each year DBHDD supports mental health and substance abuse prevention and intervention services, which include more than a thousand certified peer specialists, for nearly 160,000 individuals. Georgia was the first state in the country to implement statewide peer support in 1999, and since that time the service has been recognized by multiple federal health and human service agencies as a standard practice, and 42 other states have followed Georgia’s lead in implementing the service.

“In terms of the delivery of peer support service, Georgia tends to be at the forefront nationally,” said Mowbray. “There are not a lot of other states that I can think of that have peer support service integrated into multiple forms of public mental health services. That’s very forward thinking.”

Learn more about Georgia’s peer mentoring program visit the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network.

– Laurie Anderson

Posted July 5, 2019. This news release is also available at UGA Today

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