Showcasing: The Older Persons Peer Support Program


Hunter New England and Central Coast

Lead agencies

Central Coast Primary Care and Older People’s Mental Health Service, Central Coast Local Health District


  • Providing the right type of care
  • Better responses
  • Making it local
  • Putting people first

Program overview

The Older Persons Peer Support Program is a leading example of collaboration evident by government health services and community managed organisations utilising their strengths to assist people in their recovery to promote a holistic and individualised support service and network. 

Central Coast Primary Care (CCPC) employs older peer workers in either paid or unpaid (volunteer) roles. The peer workers provide an exclusive service to consumers of the Older People’s Mental Health Service (OPMHS), Central Coast Local Health District. 


Peer work includes instilling hope and support through treatment, identifying strengths and coping strategies, regaining independence, achieving goals, being active, social and involved in the community. It also provides support in accessing resources, programs, services and treatments.  

The model offers individual recovery sessions and a group program (Roads of Recovery) co-facilitated by a peer worker and OPMHS clinician. Peer workers also provide community education and promotion about recovery and older people, systemic advocacy and consultation services. Having peer workers based in a community managed organisation has enhanced their role as individual and system advocates.


Historically, older consumers and carers of Central Coast OPMHS had no access to peer workers. Limited literature was available regarding the specific recovery needs of older people in a mental health setting. The project explores lived experience of mental health issues and ageing within a peer work context and through this adds to the limited research.


OPMHS participated in the Statewide Recovery-oriented Practice Improvement Project run by NSW Health in 2015. This led to them conducting local community forums on recovery and peer work in mid-2015.  

In late 2015, the service received a grant to design, implement and develop an older person’s peer support program that became operational in 2016 as part of a partnership agreement with CCPC. OPMHS received a further grant in 2016 and funding has since been sourced from enhancement funding.  

All aspects of project design, implementation and evaluation were co-designed with OPMHS staff, CCPC staff and Older Person’s Peer Workers. 

Seven peer workers have either completed or are in the process of completing the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work.

As of February 2019, the program has worked with 112 people, delivering 1,599 hours of peer work and 436 episodes of care - about four episodes of care per participant.  


A task analysis has found 89% of the peer workers’ tasks have been focused on people with lived experience (78%) and capacity building, advocacy and consultation (11%). Meetings and role development accounted for 11%.

Peer worker recruitment, selection and orientation is a joint effort between CCPC and OPMHS. The OPMHS Clinical Nurse Educator provides reflective supervision and a journal club for the peer workers while selected OPMHS staff provide mentorship. Referral and record keeping systems promote ongoing communication particularly between peer workers and OPMHS clinicians.

Supportive leadership at local and state level, an emerging recovery-oriented culture, funding opportunities, existing relationships with community managed organisations, a willing workforce and research support have driven the initiative.


"They showed me a way out… they gave me hope… they are an inspiration." - SMHSOP participant reflecting on peer work

Evaluations have shown that the program provides a unique and valuable service to older people and carers of OPMHS. Together with the service participant, peer workers strive to make hope, empowerment, independence, physical health and connectedness a tangible part of lived experience. 

The program helps build the capacity of OPMHS staff, health and other aged care services to support recovery-oriented practices. A powerful change agent for staff was their experience of working with peer workers and directly observing their unique skillset and insight when working with consumers and carers.

"She (Peer Worker) has achieved more with the person in a few weeks than I have been able to achieve in two years." - OPMHS Clinician


Older persons are well suited to the provision of peer work. This has been conceptualised as, in part, due to their age, maturity and peer worker attributes including a willingness to listen and problem solve, patience, humility and resilience fortified by the experience of recovery. Peer work has provided mutual benefits for the peer workers themselves and their own recovery journey through enhanced self-esteem, identity, role and purpose.

"I think it’s great for us too because I retired in 2006 and I never thought I would work again… I lost my husband in November last year now this is my time to give back what SMHSOP gave to my husband." - Peer Worker

Next steps

The program required a significant investment in time, human resources, patience, belief and trust in both the process and each other.  The program in partnership with CCPC is a key part of OPMHS’s model of care and is actively seeking to expand. More broadly, the program would like to share and promote this model across NSW. 


Case study submitted on 7/6/19 by Patrick Livermore, Promotion / Prevention Coordinator, Specialist Mental Health Services for Older People,