California May Give State Certification To Mental Health "Peer Support" Workers

Apr 2, 2019

Across California, people who’ve been through a mental health crisis and come out the other side are using their experiences to help others in that situation - but often without rigorous training.  A bill moving through the legislature could make what’s called “peer support” a lot more official, as Capital Public Radio’s Sammy Caiola explains.

When Eric Bailey was leaving the hospital in 2013 after an episode related to his bipolar disorder, he didn’t know what came next. He’d lost his job, his apartment … and hope.

Then a stranger approached.

“I was sitting right next to the medication window on one of those little plastic chairs- and he came up to me asked me if I had a plan for when I got out of the hospital.”

He didn’t. But this guy - who later identified himself as a peer support worker - said he’d been in that ward before, and together they figured out the next steps. Now, Bailey’s leading support groups for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A new bill could create a certification for these workers, which would make their services billable through Medicaid. Right now, counties cover the brunt of peer support programs.

Peers can’t make a diagnosis or provide counseling, but they can steer people into treatment — and keep them there — by being a shoulder to lean on. Advocates say they could be part of solving the state’s mental health provider shortage.

Bailey says that sometimes, it’s just easier to talk to someone who isn’t a doctor

“I felt like I couldn’t convey my status, my symptoms, my feelings effectively to somebody who hadn’t been in a position to experience those acute moments of distress … I couldn’t help them realize what it was like to me.”

Former governor Jerry Brown vetoed an identical bill last year, stating that peers are already doing this work and it would cost too much to certify them. The new bill just passed the Senate Health Committee.