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Rural Health Information Hub

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 article states:

“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
    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

Alternative 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
Date: 10/2001

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 provider roles.
Author(s): Grant, K.L., Bender Simmons, M., & Davey, C.G.
Citation: Psychiatric Services, 69(5), 508-516
Date: 5/2018