Federal and academic studies have reported that millions of American adults with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, go untreated each year. This is driven, in part, by a national shortage of behavioral health care professionals.
In recent years, states have increased use of peer support specialists—people who use their own experience recovering from mental illnesses to support others.
We looked at how 6 states certify that the specialists have basic competencies and the ability to support others. We found 6 leading practices, including training specialists in person and requiring continuing education.
This is a photo of a woman and man seated at a table looking at a counseling form attached to a clipboard.
What GAO Found
According to officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), shortages in the behavioral health workforce are a key reason that individuals with mental illnesses do not receive needed treatment. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on using peer support specialists—individuals who use their own experience recovering from mental illness to support others—to help address these shortages. Program officials GAO interviewed in selected states generally cited six leading practices for certifying that peer support specialists have a basic set of competencies and have demonstrated the ability to support others.
Six Leading Practices for Programs that Certify Peer Support Specialists Identified by Program Officials from Selected States
Why GAO Did This Study
As the peer support workforce has grown, there has been increased attention to standardizing the competencies of peer support specialists through certification.
The 21st Century Cures Act included a provision for GAO to conduct a study to identify best practices related to training and certification in peer support programs in selected states that receive funding from SAMHSA. This report, among other things, describes leading practices for certifying peer support specialists identified by program officials in selected states.
GAO interviewed state program officials in six selected states and reviewed online, publicly available information about their peer support programs. GAO selected the states in part based on the state's certification program being well-established (at least 2 years old), use of SAMHSA funding for peer support, and stakeholder recommendations. The six selected states—Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas--are among the 41 states and the District of Columbia that, as of July 2016, had programs to certify peer support specialists. In addition to the state program officials, GAO interviewed SAMHSA officials and 10 stakeholders familiar with peer support specialist certification, including mental health researchers and officials from training organizations, among others.
GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for review and comment. The Department did not have any comments.
For more information, contact Mary Denigan-Macauley at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.