Emerging Leaders in Mental Health
Community members are responding to the mental health crisis by stepping into new roles in the mental
health field. Professionals other than traditional mental health staff, including peer support
workers, first responders, and community members are increasingly emerging as leaders and
professionals in the mental health workforce, including in rural areas. A Psychiatry Services
article examines 3 approaches for addressing mental health workforce issues: peer support worker
(PSW) programs, task shifting, and Mental Health First Aid through community advocacy organizations. The
“For generations, communities have supported individuals' mental health in many ways, from
religious or spiritual organizations to familial support and care. Although these supports are rarely
considered formal mental health services, it is important to recognize their value in providing
timely, accessible, and relatively effective support for individuals.”
Peer support worker programs
PSWs are individuals who have experienced a mental health or substance use condition and been
successful in treatment. By connecting community members with an individual who has already
experienced and successfully received treatment for mental health conditions, individuals may be more
willing to engage in treatment services.
Task shifting is training community members to respond to mental health needs and in turn putting
less of a burden on formal mental health workers.
Mental Health First Aid and Community Advocacy Organizations
Advocacy organizations can host Mental Health First
Aid sessions for community members and community support groups. Organizations may also rally for
legislative support for improvement in mental health programing.
Why are nontraditional mental health roles important?
- There may be less discomfort associated with receiving help from an individual who may not formally
be considered a healthcare professional.
- Care from an emerging mental health professional may be accessible immediately through a drop-in
service unlike other clinical services.
- Nontraditional mental health professionals may be trusted members of the community and may have
similar shared experiences to the individual seeking care.
- These positions are especially important to fill in rural areas where the need is greater because
the traditional workforce is smaller.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Approaches to Mental Health Care
Outlines alternative treatment measures for mental health conditions and how these measures can be
combined with traditional treatment measures. Community members can tailor treatments to meet the
specific needs of an individual.
Organization(s): Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation
Three Nontraditional Approaches to Improving
the Capacity, Accessibility, and Quality of Mental Health Services: An Overview
Provides an overview of three methods for improving mental health services through nontraditional
Author(s): Grant, K.L., Bender Simmons, M., & Davey, C.G.
Citation: Psychiatric Services, 69(5), 508-516