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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning from experiences of peer support at an integrated youth service organization : a qualitative study Devane, Courtney


Mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability in youth worldwide. In Canada, mental health challenges affect one in five youth by age 24. When youth activate mental health services, they reduce their likelihood of experiencing problems later in life, yet less than 20% of youth with mental health challenges are accessing these services. This gap is largely attributed to a lack of comprehensive, well-designed health care services to meet the needs of this age group effectively. Canada’s mental health strategy identifies peer support as an essential component of mental health services. However, the majority of peer support research has focused on adult populations. Largely missing from the literature is an understanding of peer support in a youth mental health context. The purpose of this research was to learn from experiences of peer support at an integrated youth services (IYS) organization in British Columbia (BC), Canada. This study utilized interpretive description methodology and a research community partnership model. Data were collected from IYS centers across BC in urban, rural, and Northern settings. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews were conducted and analyzed to examine how peer support is experienced by: youth peer support workers (YPSWs), service providers, and youth recipients of peer support. Findings are presented within each group of participants. A discussion of similarities and differences across groups illustrates key priorities to advance youth peer support in a meaningful way. Four recommendations to guide IYS organizations in strengthening their youth peer support services are provided: 1) Standardize YPSW hiring and onboarding processes across the IYS network; 2) Establish senior peer support roles and regional peer support practice leads; 3) Implement an evidence-based model of supervision for YPSWs; and 4) Increase the availability and accessibility of YPSWs across BC. Strategies to achieve each recommendation are discussed. As the need for mental health services for youth continues to rise, developing and implementing recovery-oriented and evidence-based interventions is crucial. This study aimed to generate new knowledge to optimize and scale peer support at IYS organizations and to guide broader policies for mental health services offered to youth and by youth in BC, and beyond.

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