When you are first diagnosed with a mental health concern and/or substance abuse concerns it leaves you with lots of questions. What is there hope for me? What do I do now?
It’s normal to have these feelings and it’s okay to feel that way. All people in recovery have felt this way at some point in their journey. The questions mentioned previously are questions that all peer supporters have dealt with themselves. You are not alone.
What is a peer support specialist?
A peer support specialist is someone who has found success in their recovery journey and helps others starting their recovery journeys.
Peers help people in recovery in many different ways that they need. They advocate for those in recovery, provide resources, mentorship, and new coping skills. They help people to set goals, build community with others and foster relationships, and lead recovery groups. 
Peer support specialists are helpful because they have been through what you are going through. And they can provide perspective and support that others such as loved ones, medical providers, and others may not be able to provide.
What does peer support look like?
Peer support looks like a good friend you can trust and relate to on various levels. This ranges from ethnic background to sexual orientation. Peer support looks like a mentor with lived experience, having been there and done that. Peer support can help with:
- Resources: Peer support provides information on what is available in your local area to help you succeed in recovery. For example, this could be assisting you in finding a therapist that matches your current needs in your life.
- Advocacy: Peer support can help you advocate for yourself. Peers help you set examples of the process, like asking questions about your medications. Also, talking to your pharmacist about prescription drug interactions and side effects. Peer supporters can even teach you how to ask questions about your mental health. Or a substance abuse concern that you might have overlooked.
- Education: Peer support educates you on the steps into recovery. Peers teach you about necessary information about your mental health concerns and/or substance abuse problems. For example, a peer supporter educating you could be as simple as telling you to write down your questions for your doctor or therapist.
- Encouragement: Peer support lifts you up. Peers show you by example, that recovery is possible with encouraging remarks, and insight into your progress. Even when you don’t notice your progress yourself. Peers also share their personal recovery story with you-saying I have been through this, and if I can do it, you can too.
- Lived Experience: Peer support has real-life experience in some of the same situations you may find yourself in. Past experiences from a peer supporter can be offered to assist you with making important decisions like a response to toxic friendships and even coping skills.
Where can I find peer support?
Peer support is not new, but the implementation of peer support as a professional career is just becoming mainstream. That is a good thing because there are a lot of places that you can look for peer support.
- You can find peer support at your local department of mental health. The most common place to find a peer support specialist is through programs funded by your local government’s department of mental health or public health. Peers are often part of teams that support people in outpatient treatment or wrap around services. Different mental health organizations like Mental Health America or NAMI receive funding from local governments to provide services including peer support. You can look at the SAMHSA treatment locator to find a list of programs that receive funding to provide peer support. And call them to find out if you qualify to receive services.
- For addiction, you can find peer support at 12 step programs and other self help programs. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other recovery programs can help you find sponsors. They can connect with peers and others who have experiences like your own.
- You may be able to find peer support through your insurance. Few but some healthcare insurance providers have peer support programs for patients. You may be able to find and access these programs by contacting your insurance provider for information.
- You can create your own peer support systems. Even if you have trouble finding a peer support specialist, peer support can come from other places. For example, a friend or loved one who has been through recovery themselves can provide resources, information, and advice. You may also find online support groups and forums helpful as they can provide advocacy, education, and lived experience just as a peer support specialist would.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2022, September 27). Peer Support Workers for those in Recovery. Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale: Technical Assistance Center Strategy. https://www.samhsa.gov/brss-tacs/recovery-support-tools/peers