Peer navigation promoting connections to improve mental health

  • Woman using phone seated at an office desk
By
Dr Melissa Russell
Consumers of Mental Health WA
Issue
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Finding out where to go for the right kind of mental health support can be daunting for anyone, but the challenges posed by distance, geographical isolation and fewer services can make this especially difficult for those in regional and rural Western Australia. Compounding this, stigma around mental health can be especially intense in some remote or rural areas. Peer service navigation offers a promising approach to overcoming such difficulties by connecting individuals with Peer Navigators, who are people with their own lived experiences of mental health challenges and recovery, and who can be partners in finding the right supports.

A peer navigator possesses both professional expertise and lived experience of navigating the mental health service system. Drawing from their own lives, they offer stigma-free spaces for individuals to discuss their experiences. Peer service navigation respects that consumers are best placed to speak on their own needs. Peer navigators refrain from making judgements on behalf of individuals about what’s best for them, and instead respect individuals’ rights to decide what services and supports would be useful, according to their own definition of 'wellbeing.’ When people are supported to decide on the services and supports they want to find, they are more likely to engage meaningfully with those services to maintain their mental health.

Service navigation is a vital component of access to care in rural or regional areas, enabling individuals to link up with accessible services that are right for them or available in their area. Peer navigators can locate mental health services that are available in small towns and regional centres, via telehealth, online, over the phone and/or face-to-face, or that can be accessed during regular visits to a regional health centre. Peer navigators are also attentive to the social determinants of wellbeing and can look beyond mental health services to explore what people need to maintain social connections and participate in activities they enjoy. Community and social connections and supports are especially important in rural and remote areas where there are often longer waits for services. Participation in community, social and interest-based activities is just as important to mental health and wellbeing as formal supports.

A growing number of programs around Australia that have taken this approach to facilitate strong connections with mental health and wellbeing supports. In WA, Peer Pathways is one Peer Navigation service that is funded by WAPHA and offered by Consumers of Mental Health WA, the statewide peak organisation representing the rights and interests of people with mental health and wellbeing challenges. Peer Pathways is a free, confidential helpline available to people across WA, including regional and rural areas, who are seeking service and support options for their mental health and wellbeing.

Peer Pathways Navigators explore each caller’s preferences, understanding of wellbeing and find out what they are looking for. They will then research and locate the support services best suited to the caller and contact those services about waitlists, eligibility, accessibility, location and billing (plus anything else the caller needs to know). Peer navigators then link the caller with the appropriate support through “warm referrals” or well-informed and researched recommendations.

While the lower availability of services in rural and remote WA remains a major area of inequity in mental health, connecting people to the services and supports that assist in achieving their own definition of wellbeing ensures that individuals are at the centre of their own care.

Peer Pathways (www.peerpathways.org.au) can be accessed by calling 08 9477 2809, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Please note Peer Pathways helpline is not a crisis line.

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