While President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address on March 1 focused primarily on Ukraine, COVID-19, and inflation, the speech also touched briefly on the issue of mental health, which the White House has promised to address, in part, by promoting peer support.

“Let’s get all Americans the mental health services they need: more people they can turn to for help, and full parity between physical and mental healthcare,” Biden urged Congress.

On the day of the speech, the White House put forth an accompanying fact sheet detailing the Biden administration’s plans to “to transform how mental health is understood, perceived, accessed, treated, and integrated – in and out of health care settings.”

The fact sheet identified “a severe shortage of behavioral health providers” amid “an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages.” One of seven proposals to beef up system capacity was to create a “national certification program for peer specialists.”

This initiative would “convene stakeholders, launch development, and support implementation of a national certified peer specialist certification program, which will accelerate universal adoption, recognition, and integration of the peer mental health workforce across all elements of the health care system.”

Through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the executive branch of the federal government has previously recognized the efficacy of peer support on the basis of “emerging research” pointing to benefits for participants such as an “increased sense of control and ability to bring about changes in their lives,” an “increased sense that treatment is responsive and inclusive of needs,” and “increased social support and social functioning.”

At least 46 states have already implemented certification programs for mental health peers. An effort to do the same in Vermont failed in the legislature this spring (see “Legislature Nixes Peer Respite and Certification Bills”).

Following the State of the Union address, the National Association of Peer Supporters released a statement: “Presidential Administrations have a played critical role in elevating the value that people with lived and living experiences of mental health and substance conditions and their families have in the design, delivery, and evaluation of services. We celebrate the inclusion of the Peer Support Workforce in the Administration’s strategy. We stand ready to partner with the Biden administration on improving the health of all Americans including through policy related to the peer support profession.”

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