Two people smiling

What is Peer Support?

In Behavioral health, a peer is someone who has the lived experience of struggling with some sort of mental health and/or substance use disorder. Peer to peer support is a relationship between two individuals who “get it” when sharing their struggle. It is the “process of giving and receiving encouragement and assistance to achieve long-term recovery.” Peers “offer emotional support, share knowledge, teach skills, provide practical assistance, and connect people with resources, opportunities, communities of support, and other people” (Mead, 2003; Solomon, 2004). Peer support may consist of one peer who is the paid supporter or just two friends in recovery supporting one another. Peers relate to each other and are able to model that recovery is possible and mental illness does not have to define who we are. They are living proof that anyone can get well, stay well and go on to live meaningful lives.

What is the evidence?

Peer support is recognized as an evidence-based practice for individuals with mental health conditions or challenges. Quantitative and qualitative evidence indicates that peer support:

  • Lowers costs associated with traditional mental health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and inpatient stays
  • Increased the utilization of outpatient services
  • Improves a person’s quality of life
  • Increases and improves service engagement
  • Increases whole health and self-management

Here are some articles on the evidence of peer support:

People helping each other climb a mountain

What are Peers doing in Marin?

Peers in Marin County have been passing on the message of recovery since the early 90s. Currently, Peers perform a variety of different and unique roles specific to their lived experiences. Here are some examples of the work peers are doing:

  • Work with clinical staff in most of all BHRS Full-Service Partnership (FSP) teams
  • Support individuals on the peer to peer support warmline
  • Engage with youth who are at risk and transitioning into adulthood
  • Conduct outreach and engagement with individuals experiencing homelessness
  • Connect with older adults in isolation
  • Assist adults and young adults in their substance use recovery

Peer Spotlight

Mark Parker is a former consumer of BHRS and is very passionate about peer programs and the “peer approach”. Mark started in 2011 as a volunteer on the warmline and has taken on a variety of roles that include working out in the field doing homeless outreach and a variety of different wrap around teams within BHRS. Mark is passionate about truly trauma informed approaches sharing that everyone has a story and it’s important to reduce stigma by recognizing what’s strong rather than what’s wrong. He has been a strong advocate on a variety of different employee and community committees and also works with community members in support of them helping their loved one’s access resources. Mark was recently promoted to Peer Program Coordinator with the county and will use his passion and lived experience to support peers in the county and to bring more awareness to peer support with the hopes of reaching all in Marin. Mark’s experience with the value of peer support is “The impact of someone being open with me about their mental health struggles gave me great comfort. I suddenly found my community and felt less alone. As a man, I started to address my trauma head on and that was when the healing began.”

Mark Parker

How Do I Become A Peer?

The first step would be training. The county funds some of the available peer education courses that would help you learn more about mental health and how to be an effective peer. Most of these peer education courses are free of charge. In  September 25th, 2020, Gavin Newsom signed the SB803 Peer Specialist Certification Bill that will give peers accreditation. For more info see the bill here.

Here are some available peer education classes:

COPE (Co-Occuring Peer Education)

The COPE Program has been nationally certified by Mental Health America as an advanced peer specialist training program.  For more information, contact Terry Fierer at 415-634-8381 or terry@connectics.org

Mental Health Advocates of Marin

Mental Health Advocates of Marin has a peer education course available at the Enterprise Resource Center at 3270 Kerner Blvd Suite #C. Email Stephen Marks, Peer Education instructor at stmarksphd@gmail.com.

WISE University

WISE University is a free three week interactive peer training course offered quarterly. Hosted online or in person. 

Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF)

MHASF peer specialist certification training is a 40 hour training program were participants will meet twice a week for 6 weeks. 

Peer Digital Resource Guide

We have a guide full of resources that are peer friendly! Is there a resource you would like to add or have input on? Email us!

Would you like to be a part of our peer digital task force? 

The Peer Digital Taskforce is a team of peers dedicated to sharing the awareness of resources available to meet the specific behavioral health needs of the people of Marin County. Our team values the importance of connection and of overcoming the barriers to individuals accessing peer services that are meaningful to recovery and wellness in mental health and substance use challenges. For more information contact Mark Parker at mparker@marincounty.org. 

Peer Advocacy

We need passionate peers to advocate for more peer voices in our community. BHRS has opportunities for you to be a part of the work!

Join the Peer Recovery Change Team that meets the first Thursday of every month at 12pm via Zoom. For more information, contact Mark Parker at mparker@marincounty.org

WET Scholarships

Marin County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) has set aside Workforce Education and Training (WET) funds via the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) for vocational, training, and educational support to residents of Marin County who have lived experience with behavioral health (mental health and/or substance use) conditions, or their families, and who wish to join the behavioral health services profession.