Is Organizing a Strategy for Peer Support Staff Reclaiming Power in Broken Systems?

Across the country, a small army of people with lived experience of mental health or problem substance use concerns have been trained to provide peer support services, often landing in low wage, low power, low autonomy, and low respect jobs. What if this small army were to organize and reclaim its power?

There is great truth to the idea that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. People with lived experience and our family members/allies know what works in our broken mental health and addiction treatment systems and what doesn’t work. We have navigated the red tape that too often strangles people seeking services and support. We have endured long wait times to access services in life or death situations. We have been turned away while attempting to access services before it becomes a life or death situation. We have had to shuffle between multiple providers to address our interdependent mental health and substance use concerns because quality services designed to truly address both mental health and substance use concerns remain more siloed than not. We have fought with insurance and managed care companies that still refuse to follow the lame duck law of parity. We have had to figure out how to sustain our own or our loved one’s wellness after premature discharges from treatment or insufficient ongoing support resources and services provided. Yes, people with lived experience and our family members/allies know our broken systems in intimate ways that no scholar, no bureaucrat, and no politician who has never had to walk through those systems could possibly know. In turn, people with lived experience and our family members/allies hold the unique perspective to knowing what works well in our broken systems and we carry the keys to dismantling and discarding what is failing miserably.

But what about peer support staff? Isn’t that role supposed to be how people with lived experience can change our broken systems?

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