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MIRECC Matters - Spring 2023

A publication of the VISN 5 MIRECC - MIRECC Matters - Putting Recovery into Practice

Needs Assessment Identifies Training Areas in Women’s Mental Health for Peer Support Services

Project Co-Leader: Amy Drapalski, Ph.D.

Women Veterans represent the fastest-growing subgroup of the U.S. Veteran population and of VHA service users. Peer specialists play an important role in providing comprehensive mental health care to women Veterans. In an effort to support the growing VHA peer specialist workforce in providing high quality care to women Veterans, the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s Women’s Mental Health and Peer Support Services partnered with the VISN 5 Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center to better understand the knowledge, comfort, and skill of peer specialists and their supervisors in addressing the needs of women Veterans in VHA.

A needs assessment survey was developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary workgroup including peer specialists, Women’s Mental Health Champions, and women’s mental health leadership. This brief, anonymous survey was then completed by peer specialists and peer specialist supervisors across VHA. Peer specialists were surveyed on how knowledgeable they felt in providing peer support services around reproductive health topics (e.g., pregnancy loss, perimenopause/menopause) and gender-linked stressors (e.g., caregiving and its impacts, gender-based harassment), as well as aspects of providing peer support services to women Veterans (e.g., facilitating women-only or mixed-gender groups). Peer support supervisors were asked to rate their knowledge about providing supervision to a peer specialist on these various topics.

Over 300 peer specialists and over 200 peer specialist supervisors responded to the survey. Peer specialists and supervisors reported being least knowledgeable about reproductive mental health topics, particularly mental health concerns related to infertility, breast and gynecological cancers, chronic genital and/or pelvic pain, pregnancy loss, and perimenopause and menopause (see Table 1). Although peer specialists and supervisors reported feeling more knowledgeable providing peer support services around gender-linked stressors and aspects of providing peer support services to women Veterans, additional knowledge gaps remained, suggesting a potential need for additional training or support. For peer specialists, these knowledge gaps included facilitating women-only groups, caregiving and its impacts, and gender-based harassment. For supervisors, these knowledge gaps included providing supervision around women’s experiences in the military, relating to women Veterans when you don’t have similar lived experiences, and supporting women when facilitating mixed-gender groups. For peer specialists and supervisors, gender differences were observed, with men more likely than women to report knowledge gaps (see Table 2). In terms of training modalities, peer specialists indicated a preference for in-person trainings, peer specialists sharing lived experiences, and small group discussion as potential methods of learning.

Together, these results identified training topics, particularly with regards to reproductive mental health, that could reduce knowledge gaps and expand peer specialists’ capacity to care for women Veterans. Information gained from these surveys and several recently completed focus groups will inform future training opportunities and modalities to ensure that peer specialists are well-equipped to address the needs of women Veterans.

A publication of the VISN 5 MIRECC - MIRECC Matters - Putting Recovery into Practice
A publication of the VISN 5 MIRECC - MIRECC Matters - Putting Recovery into Practice

Editor's Note: A version of this first appeared in the VHA Peer Perspectives newletter.


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