Digitally Delivered Peer Support

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and social distancing becomes the new normal, we have seen rapid expansion of digitally delivered peer and family support. In this post, we explore emerging issues and considerations for using technology to reach others.

The use of technology to offer peer support is a practice that has been around for quite a while. Think about telephonic peer support via peer-operated warmlines. A from December 4, 2019 said this about warmlines:

“Unlike a hotline for those in immediate crisis, warmlines provide early intervention with emotional support that can prevent a crisis.”

Magellan has long been a supporter of peer-operated warmlines and has helped launch warmlines in multiple states.

You can find more information about warmline availability by state at www.warmline.org or by visiting the National Empowerment Center’s directory of peer-run warmlines.

As opportunities for in-person, face-to-face support have decreased, many peer-run organizations, along with traditional mental health providers, have shifted delivery of services to telehealth platforms. Yet, during this unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis, we see increased demand for support from folks living with anxiety and depression. As more families are impacted by the pandemic, access to peer support is more critical than ever.

Peers have been quick to step up with a national grassroots-driven expansion of support via video conferencing platforms like Zoom. With this rapid expansion, however, we see wide variability in practices. Skills learned by providing in-person peer support do not necessarily translate onto a digital delivery platform. Individuals who are used to seeing a peer supporter in person may have a different experience when it’s offered through technology. In some cases, apps that purport to offer peer support are actually “peer-bots,” with real-time interactions being driven by algorithms and predictive analytics.

Fortunately, solutions to address the nuances of digital peer support have been developed. One of the most beneficial is training in digital peer support. Magellan partnered with Dr. Karen Fortuna to provide specialized training to our team members who provide peer and family support. Many other organizations and agencies have completed this training as well. It’s an important and necessary step to take as we navigate this new normal.

If you want to learn more about the state of practice relevant to digitally delivered peer support, check out this article from the April 2020 Journal of Medical Internet Research by Dr. Fortuna, Digital Peer Support Mental Health Interventions for People With a Lived Experience of a Serious Mental Illness: Systematic Review.

As we learn more about what works and what could be improved with peer support services via telehealth, we are paving new ground. What we do over the coming weeks and months will set the trajectory for digitally delivered peer support.  Let’s make sure we get to where we want to go safely, respectfully and responsibly.

This is an excerpt from the full eMpowered for Wellness May newsletter. To read the full article, go here.

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