Building a Peer Support Program is important for any size department. The Peer Support Model has been part of the first responder for years and can improve access to care for individuals seeking help.
If you are reading this, then you are interested in building or expanding your peer team. Building a team may be challenging at times, but the benefits to your department and co-workers will be evident in your department's mental and physical well-being.
Suggested Steps for developing a peer support team:
1. Assess your workplace culture regarding mental health. Does your workplace have a desire to create peer support? Who are the allies? Can you seek assistance from your department Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)?
2. Talk to key supervisors and command staff about building a team. Are they willing to support the initiative? Will they pay for training? Will they allow peers to meet with individuals during work? Educate Command Staff about why peer support is a means to maintain and increase mental and physical health in departments. Identify a command staff champion and ask them to attend meetings and promote the initiative in the department.
3. Create a steering committee or informal workgroup to develop guidelines, policy and procedures, and the application process for selecting peers for the team. Does your labor union have guidelines to help develop peer support? Your agency's size and culture will define whether your Peer Support Team is a formal team or an informal team. Suggested members to include in a steering committee are front-line workers, union representatives, and senior officers.
4. Selection of Peer Support Team Members is crucial for the success of your team. Will you have an application process? Peers selected to be on the peer team should have a belief that recovery is possible and everyone can heal and move forward. Peers must also be able to set strict boundaries and know when to step away from a peer to peer engagement.
5. Peer Support Training is critical to developing a respected and trusted peer team. Peers should attend initial training and receive ongoing training every 6-12 months for as long as they are part of the team. Peers should understand their own mental health and take time away from peer work when necessary.
6. Peer Teams must understand the local resources for their department and know how to access them. They should have relationships with culturally competent clinicians who understand the first responder culture. Peers should also visit in-patient and out-patient treatment centers. Peers should call the EAP themselves to understand the process. Relationships with providers enable the peer teams to understand how to access mental health services and let the provider know when care was not easy to access.
7. Foster a culture of understanding about mental health. At a minimum, have yearly in-services and discuss mental health. Ideally, incorporate wellness ideas and building resilience into monthly or quarterly department in-services and meetings. Make time to check in with employees, co-workers, and even supervisors after a critical incident occurs.
8. Building Peer Support in departments is not static. The function, roles, and responsibilities will continually evolve in a strong program.
9. Find sample peer support team development timelines here and here.
10. Peers should monitor their own personal mental health and take time off from peer work when needed. If a peer is in recovery, their recovery is the priority and should come before doing any peer work.
Peer Support's role is to assist people in finding the help they need. When people are operating at their highest performance level, the department is stronger and safer. Peer Supports role is to help people find the help that they need to perform at their highest level. Peers should never lie for a co-worker or cover up mistakes on the job.
No. Trained Peer Supporters are trained in active listening skills and assist the person to find the proper help whether it is in-patient care, intensive out-patient care or getting an appointment with a clinician. Trained Peer Supporters understand how to navigate the mental health system and advocate for members in their department to get the help they need. Trained peer supporters do not offer clinical advice, but may talk about their own recovery journey to offer insight about the process and to offer hope for recovery.
Agencies that have peer support programs can lessen organizational stress and consequently, improve the emotional well-being of their departments. Peer support programs provide resources that peer supporters can share with members in their departments. Peer Supporters meet with fellow first responders and can provide insight into department processes and help employees navigate internal politics. Organizational stress may be mitigated if the employees learn how to decrease stress through conversations with a peer support team member.
There are many models for clinical oversight of peer support teams. Large agencies might have a clinician on staff. Medium size agencies may have access to an EAP. Small agencies may have a relationship with their county mental health provider. Peer Support Teams have a department supervisor to oversee the policy development, the peer selection process, and to provide access to on-going trainings.