We have done ample research on the efficacy of peer support programs in promoting mental health and emotional wellbeing, especially in adolescents. There are numerous other examples of the success of peer support, which can be found under "more evidence".
Since the 1990s, existing literature has demonstrated the positive psychological effects peer support programs. Bouchard et al. (2010) found that peer support provides people with a thoughtful and constructive process towards recovery, which encompasses self- reflection, self- observation, and evaluating outcomes, and that these processes provide both peers and recipients with improved mental health and quality of life. Davidson et al. (2012) found that “when providing peer support that involves positive self- disclosure, role-modeling, and conditional regard, peer staff have also been found to increase participants’ sense of hope, control, and ability to effect changes in their lives; increase their self care, sense of community belonging, and satisfaction with various life domains; and decrease participants’ level of depression and psychosis”. Bob Glover, director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, asserts that “when peers are involved, outcomes are dramatically better across the board” (Vestal, 2013).
Likewise, existing literature has reflected upon the economic benefits of peer support programs. Research shows that peer support specialists can help states save money by reducing the need for emergency interventions and hospitalizations, and that their efforts ameliorate the current shortage of mental health workers (Vestal 2013). Sita Diehl, head of the state policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states that “because of [peers’] life experience and relatively low cost, they can provide more face time for people" than conventional mental health providers (Vestal, 2013). Migdole et al. (2011) concluded that peer support positions provide unique opportunities for both prospective mental health professionals and for people in recovery.
One striking example of the efficacy of peer support programs in addressing mental health is a volunteer- facilitated peer support group formed in a Southwestern high school in the early 1990s. In this instance, students were notified of the availability of the program and applied if they believed they could benefit from engaging in peer support. Students did not receive an incentive for joining, so their participation was completely voluntary. 250 students were then selected to partake in the program on the basis that their perceived level of emotional distress was high enough to warrant intervention, but not so high that hospitalization would be required. Throughout the 1992-1993 academic year, participants engaged in 50-minute peer support sessions once a week. After the program ended, students were asked to fill out an anonymous survey that assessed their satisfaction with the program. The following statistics were gathered from the results of the survey. (Wassef et al., 1996)
74.38% of participants reported seeing a positive effect in their communication and expression of feelings.
67.50% of participants reported seeing a positive effect in their relations with other students.
75.83% of participants reported seeing a positive effect on their ability to support their friends.
68.91% of participants reported seeing a positive effect on their ability to help their family.
68.91% of participants reported that the program had a positive effect on their mental health.
76.03% of participants reported that the program had a positive effect on their perceived self- worth.
77.88% of participants reported that the program helped them discover new ways to deal with problems.
64.46% of participants reported that the program helped them better cope with stress.
60.66% of participants reported that the program had a positive effect on their attitude towards school.
General program acceptability factors
94.74% of participants said they would recommend the program to a friend.
69.75% of participants said they would join an in- school peer support group the following year.
On a five- point scale, 52.10% of participants rated their level of comfort at the end of the group a 5 (high), and 35.29% rated their level of comfort a 4 (somewhat high).
On a five- point scale, 49.58% of participants rated their perceived group success a 5 (high), and 36.13% of participants rated their perceived group success a 4 (somewhat high).
As demonstrated by the aforementioned statistics, the vast majority of participants reported that they considered the peer support program to be helpful, constructive, and highly successful for the group and the individual. Most importantly, a substantial amount of participants (68.91%) believed that the program had a positive effect on their mental health, and likewise, high percentages of participants believed that the program helped to foster a healthier mentality and better coping mechanisms.
Likewise, results indicate that these programs, in bettering the participants’ mental health, also had external benefits to the students’ lives. 19.30% of participants revealed that they had considered dropping out of school, and 59.52% of those participants stated that the program helped to prevent them from making this decision. Likewise, 62.96% of participants stated that they had previously used alcohol or drugs, but as a result of the program, 25.35% stopped using these substances, 32.39% decreased their usage, and 22.54% did not decrease their substance use but reported that they had more awareness of their usage. These statistics demonstrate that, not only is peer support highly effective in providing a path towards better mental health, but it also encourages participants to adopt healthier attitudes and avoid self-destructive behavior. This can be explained by the program’s positive effects on students’ self worth and ability to cope with stress.
This study demonstrates that, in the few instances in which peer support programs have been implemented in high schools, these programs have demonstrated high efficacy in addressing poor mental health and emotional distress in adolescent populations and have proven to be a viable alternative to conventional mental health treatment. This study also demonstrates that students involved in peer support were able to find new ways to cope and find solutions to personal problems, extending the effects of peer support beyond the length of the program. As such, this study serves as an example to future high school, mental health-focused peer support programs.