A “peer” in the world of mental health and substance abuse lingo means a fellow person who has also been diagnosed with a mental health or substance abuse disorder. Peers come together on their own in self-help support groups (both in the local communities and online) to help one another with emotional support and the knowledge that can only come from having been there themselves.
Benedict Carey writing in today’s New York Times details the impact of peers who go one step farther and act as peer counselors, helping people with mental disorders or substance abuse disorders with training that exceeds that of another layperson patient.
Peer counselors are an important component of America’s fragmented mental health care system, filling in the many gaps (especially in the public mental health system). These gaps are especially prevalent in the U.S. because there are usually two different public systems: one that treat mental disorders and one that treats substance abuse disorders. Few public community mental health systems have integrated these two components in systematic, comprehensive “dual diagnosis” programs.