This book is a landmark on the journey of peer work in the mental health sector in Australia. It is the first of its kind in Australia: a co-produced book on peer work. It is arguably the first of its kind in the world.
This book fulfils the need for a deeper understanding of peer work. The growth of the peer workforce, along with the development of new areas of engagement such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and expansion of the evidence base supporting peer work, highlighted the need for documenting the progress, achievements and future outlook of peer work in the mental health sector in Australia.
The publication of this book is both timely and courageous. Timely, because the mental health sector in Australia is currently engaged in the activities and stresses of mental healthcare reform. The growth and maturity of peer work is at a point where its further development and policy structures are intersecting with broader disability sector reforms, leading to new understandings and acknowledgement of the value of quality peer worker. Courageous, because it sets out to produce a quality and substantial book on peer work in Australia, without anything other than enthusiasm and commitment to fulfil a desperate need for such a resource. Also courageous is the reiteration of the fact that there is now good evidence that peer work is an effective and high-quality intervention, and that mental health services require new approaches, such as peer work, in order to deliver effective services.
A coalition was formed between Janet Meagher, Mind Australia and Flourish Australia. (Mind Australia and Flourish Australia are leading specialist mental health service providers in Australia.) Both organisations were deeply committed to the production and bore production costs equally. The publication did not receive any external funding.
The editorial working group included of representatives from both organisations. It consisted of: Janet Meagher, Tim Fong (Flourish Australia), Fay Jackson (Flourish Australia), Erandathie Jayakody (Mind Australia) and Anthony Stratford (Mind Australia), and was supported by Kim Jones with administrative assistance.
A commitment to co-production of the book was established from the outset. This is reflected in the membership of the editorial working group and the contributing authors. (Three of the editorial working group members are peer workers, as are twenty-seven of the authors.)
Key individuals and organisations were invited to write an original paper for the book. Authors are predominantly experts by experience. They have lived through and thrived (not just survived) in the experience of recovery from mental health challenges; they are recognised for using the insights and expertise from their personal expertise to inform their work and are known for doing so in paid professional roles. They have documented their work and experience in the paid lived experience workforce and research with eloquence, courage and professionalism.
In addition to the contributing authors, approximately forty-five peers across Australia contributed to the book by participating in a workshop to discuss key issues and future directions on peer work. Their contribution is documented in the chapter 'A force for change', written by Leanne Craze and David Plant.
Readers will also come to an understanding that the peer workforce is an ever-increasing and vital component of multifaceted teams across all levels of the mental health sector, from service delivery to policy making to funding of services. They will gain understanding of how lived experience and peer work staff bring about much-needed cultural change in services and workplaces.