CAMH Peer Support Worker Chris McKinney recalls a time when patients would leave hospital with a prescription, a token and a follow-up appointment card. Now Chris and his fellow peer support workers at CAMH are helping clients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia make a smooth transition back into the community after a long hospital stay, through an initiative called the Welcome Basket project. Peer Support Workers (PSWs) are called peers because they have lived experience with mental health challenges, as well as a skill set that includes identifying client strengths, connecting clients to community resources and providing support.
“The Welcome Basket project is helping clients cope with the stress of leaving the hospital by providing valuable supports and better follow up,” Chris explains.
Creating Pathways to the Community
PSWs work with a client for six weeks. They meet with clients before they are discharged from hospital and help clients come up with a ‘Welcome Basket’ list of items to help ease the transition back into their living space in the community. These items can include hygiene items, decorations for the new home, or tickets to entertainment excursions into the community.
Once the clients move into the community, the PSW provides two forms of support. One, derived from Cognitive Adaptive Training, involves helping clients organize their apartment, schedule appointments, or provide visual aids as reminders (such as posting a sign next to door reminding the client not to forget their glasses, phone, etc.). The second form of support involves helping the client access affordable community resources. Informed by a PSW’s lived experience perspective, they talk to the client about the process of reconnecting with their communities.
“Preliminary findings suggest the program is enhancing the psychological well-being of clients, reducing anxiety, and enhancing quality of life,” says CAMH’s Dr. Sean Kidd, CAMH Psychologist-in-Chief and principle investigator on the project.
Bridge to Recovery
“There have been significant improvements in community functioning, satisfaction with their living situation and social relationships, and generally feeling more at home,” says Research Analyst Gursharan Virdee. “Clients have felt less isolated and experienced an increased sense of autonomy.”
“The peer involvement in this project appears to be the real driving force behind the changes we are seeing in clients lives – this is what clients have told us in their feedback”.
“The Welcome Basket Program is all about building relationship and helping clients settle in and work on their recovery goals,” says Chris McKinney. ”It breaks the isolation and gives people hope that they can achieve their goals. The clients enjoy the support, and wish it would continue longer.”
“I think the Peer Support Workers involved in this project have done a truly remarkable job at engaging and supporting people through the many stresses that can occur after leaving hospital after a long stay,” says Sean Kidd. “It really plays to the strengths of peer support and has a great potential to help people engage in activities and roles that are important to them after leaving hospital, and reducing the loss of time and momentum that comes with what might be an avoidable return to hospital.”
Student volunteer Lisa Feingold says, “It has been very exciting to listen to participants talk about the ways in which the Welcome Basket project has been able to provide support to needs that would have otherwise gone unmet. Having a peer support worker to talk to seems to have provided a level of trust and comfort for participants that would be impossible with a more clinically oriented staff.”