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DBSA e-Update July 2007: Peer Services

How Peer Support Helps—Solid Proof

eUpdate0707_Peer"Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?" Those who participate in peer support programs know this quote by Thomas Jefferson to be true. But solid research also shows that participation in peer support yields

  • improvement in a person’s symptoms and fewer hospitalizations1
  • larger social support networks2
  • enhanced self-esteem and social functioning3
  • a decrease in the length of people’s hospital stays4
  • lower services costs overall5

More evidence exists as well. According to a five-year, SAMHSA-funded study that compared participants in peer services programs to those receiving traditional services6, those in peer services programs showed greater improvement in well-being (including recovery, social inclusion, empowerment, quality of life, meaning of life and hope).

A 2005 Canadian report, Consumer/Survivor Initiatives (CSIs): Impact, Outcomes & Effectiveness, found that peer support programs improve people's health outcomes and support recovery, as well as reduce the use of hospital, emergency and other expensive services. It also found that

  • the mean number of days participants spent in the hospital dropped from about 48 to 4 days after becoming involved with a peer support program
  • peer support programs saved more than $12 million in reduced hospital stays for three hospitals over one year’s time
  • people with mental health problems who described themselves as "lonely" and were partnered with a peer mentor used an average of $20,300 less per person in hospital and emergency room services the year after they were discharged

1 Galanter, M. (1988). Research on social supports and mental illness. American Journal of Psychiatry, 145(10), 1270-1272.
2 Rappaport, J., et al. (1992). Mutual help mechanisms in the empowerment of former mental patients. In D. Saleebey (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (84-97). White Plains, NY: Longman.
3 Markowitz, F., DeMasi, M., Knight, E., & Solka, L. (1996). The role of self-help in the recovery process. Paper presented at the 6th Annual Conference on State Mental Health Agency Research and Program Evaluation, Arlington, VA.
4 Dumont, J., & Jones, K. (2002, spring). Findings from a consumer/survivor defined alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. Outlook, 4-6.
5 Dumont, J., & Jones, K. (2002, spring). Findings from a consumer/survivor defined alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. Outlook, 4-6.
6 Campbell, J., (2004). Consumer/survivor-operated self help programs: A technical report. Washington, DC. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.