Mental health peer specialists report their work is beneficial to them

     In this November 2013 photo, homeless Korean War veteran Thomas Moore, 79, left, speaks with Boston Health Care for the Homeless street team outreach coordinator Romeena Lee on a sidewalk in Boston. Moore said he accidentally killed his best friend with a phosphorous grenade during one firefight and spent months afterward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

    In this November 2013 photo, homeless Korean War veteran Thomas Moore, 79, left, speaks with Boston Health Care for the Homeless street team outreach coordinator Romeena Lee on a sidewalk in Boston. Moore said he accidentally killed his best friend with a phosphorous grenade during one firefight and spent months afterward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

    The Department of Veterans Affairs has hired more than 800 mental health peer specialists over the past year. The VA joins other service providers across the country that have staffers who have dealt with their own mental health challenges.

    Previous research has found that receiving services from a peer specialist helps those in treatment, but new research finds that the benefits are mutual.

    Dr. Mark Salzer, who heads Temple University’s department of rehabilitation sciences, recently surveyed more than 150 peer specialists working in Pennsylvania.

    “People said they felt better about themselves. They felt that providing peer services to others facilitated their own recovery and wellness,” explained Salzer.

    Peer specialists also reported using fewer services once they started working, he said.

    “For some people who had been unemployed, they were able to go back to work, which is good for people’s mental health, and hopefully has an impact on people’s receipt of entitlements,” Salzer said. “And we also found that people reported decreasing their use of mental health services.”

    Salzer said that previous studies have shown that people who are receiving peer services are more engaged in their mental health treatment and recovery.

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