First Lady McCray, Deputy Mayor Buery, Health Commissioner Bassett Announce 200 Peers Trained for Jobs in Mental Health Workforce

Peers have personal experience with mental illness or substance use; individuals with mental illness or substance use who work with trained peers have higher rates of adherence to treatment

As part of ThriveNYC, the Peer Support Training initiative will train 400 peers over two years

August 10, 2017 — First Lady Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives Richard Buery and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett announced today that the first 200 peer specialists have completed job training as part of ThriveNYC’s Peer Support Training initiative. Peers use their personal experience with mental illness, substance use, or navigating behavioral health or other-child serving systems to connect with clients whose needs might not be fully recognized or understood by the traditional health care workforce. For many, peer support services lead to significant increases in well-being and personal empowerment, as well as reductions in symptoms and hospitalizations, over traditional mental health or substance use disorder services. The Peer Support Training initiative partnered with three organizations – Community Access, Families Together for New York State, and the Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery – to provide training content, conduct outreach, classroom and field training, certification test prep assistance, and job placement for new peers. Peers received training in either mental health, substance use, or family and youth services and will qualify for jobs at hospitals, health clinics, support lines, shelters, the Veteran’s Administration, and community-based human service agencies. Today’s announcement marks the completion of the first year of the two-year, $5.4 million initiative, which will ultimately train 400 peers.

“Peer Support Specialists have a unique ability to connect with people who are trying to overcome mental health or substance misuse challenges, because they have been down this path themselves. Now we have 200 more individuals with the knowledge, skills and resources to support New Yorkers through recovery and treatment, and help restore hope in safe, judgment-free zones,” said First Lady of NYC Chirlane McCray, who spearheads ThriveNYC.

“New Yorkers struggling with mental illness or substance misuse should be able to rely on compassionate, empathetic care on their journey to wellness,” said Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives who implements ThriveNYC. “Peer specialists will play a critical role in furthering that goal by offering professional help grounded in the personal experience of overcoming similar challenges — and they’re headed to hospitals, clinics, and community organizations all across the City. In the coming years, peers will help us beat back stigma and connect more people to care.”

“Peers are living proof that people with mental illness or substance use disorder can engage successfully with treatment and get their lives back,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “The Peer Support Training initiative allows New Yorkers to share the skills they learned in their own recovery with other people living with mental illness or substance use. Their unique experience will strengthen our mental health workforce, reduce stigma, and close treatment gaps.”

The initiative also created the Peer Support and Community Health Workforce Consortium, a new team housed at the Health Department that provides outreach and engagement leading to greater use of community-based services, better perceptions of care, fewer and shorter hospitalizations, and cost savings. Consortium staff also assist peers and employers in job search and recruitment, follow-up community consultations, and the new reimbursement opportunities available through Medicaid redesign.

“We must work to reduce the stigma surrounding both mental illness and substance abuse, bringing all those suffering out of the shadows,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “I commend First Lady McCray, Deputy Mayor Buery, and DOHMH Commissioner Bassett for their leadership on this important initiative. The mentorship and support provided by these peers will go a long way to helping Brooklynites in need of guidance.”

“Connecting with peer specialists can empower and inspire those who are facing mental health or substance use challenges,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “More needs to be done to meet New Yorkers with mental health needs or substance abuse issues where they are, and this first round of training peer specialists is a step in the right direction.”

“Peer counseling is one of the most effective forms of counseling we can offer someone struggling with a mental health illness,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health. “Through the Peer Training Support initiative, those struggling with a mental health issue can see that recovery is possible and talk one on one with someone who has been through a similar illness.”

"Peer Specialists are our first line of defense in preventing the overuse of expensive emergency and inpatient facilities. By staffing support lines, crisis respite centers, and mobile support teams, peer services improve outcomes and reduce costs," said Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access. "We are proud of our long history of training and supporting peers as they pursue meaningful careers helping others through their recovery process."

“The training has clarified the sensitivity in addressing substance use and misuse,” said Reggie James, a peer who graduated through the Peer Support Training program. “It completely articulated the holistic as well as nonjudgmental approaches which can be delivered to each particular individual. This has truly been eye-opening.”

“I can’t tell you how informative and beneficial the training was,” said Eva Santiago, a peer who graduated through the Peer Support Training program. “The trainers kept us engaged and alert, with their uplifting, positive personalities. I enjoyed the role play technique — it allowed me to utilize the skills that we learned, hands on.”

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle (347) 396-4177