The Surprising Effect of Gender on Dropout from Peer Support Specialist Training

The FCM Workforce Development Program (WDP)  trains and certifies individuals who are successfully recovering from behavioral health challenges to provide support for others still struggling with mental health or substance use.

As one of Arizona’s largest peer support training programs, WDP strives to achieve equity in training for all of its students.

Recently, however, WDP found a disparity as to who graduates from their program.

Men, but not women, were more likely to drop out of peer support training if they had experienced psychiatric disability (mental illness that significantly limits practical, everyday functioning, also known as serious mental illness).

Thirty-five percent of men with psychiatric disability dropped out of the program—more than double that of men (15%) with mental illness only (no psychiatric disability). But dropout among women differed little depending on whether they had psychiatric disability (20% dropout) or mental illness only (18% dropout).

These findings come from the study Gender, Psychiatric Disability, and Dropout from Peer Support Specialist Training recently published by Psychological Services, a journal of the American Psychological Association. It was authored by WDP/FCM researchers, James Cunningham, PhD, associate professor; Jennifer Schultz De La Rosa, PhD, Cristian Quinones, BS, Beverly McGuffin, RN, MSN, and Randa Kutob, MD, MPH, associate professor.

 “These new findings give us a path to improving our graduation rates,” said Adria Powles, program manager of WDP. “This is important because program completion can help with a trainee’s recovery, and it opens doors to peer employment, including at treatment centers, hospitals, emergency departments, and justice and re-entry programs.”

“We’re now looking into ways to tailor our program to increase success for men with psychiatric disability,” said Dr. Kutob. “We need them out in the field, working as peers, particularly to help foster recovery in other men with psychiatric disability.”

Once individuals are accepted by WDP for training, the specifics of their lived experience with behavioral health have generally not been considered critical. Consequently, it was a surprise to find that gender impacted the association between psychiatric disability and program completion. Research shows that the prevalence of psychiatric disability differs by gender, with some studies indicating higher prevalence among women with mental illness and others indicating the opposite. But, there has been little research on whether psychiatric disability also interacts with gender to affect health services outcomes.

“As instructors [at WDP], we’ve long been concerned that some men found our program especially challenging,” said Rita Romero, CRSS, PFSS. “With this new study, we have a better understanding of why.”

“Peer support specialist training is one of the fastest growing mental health services in the U.S.,” said David E. Delawder, CRSS, CPRP, instructor. “This study will interest other peer support programs working on quality improvement.”

Release Date: 
11/16/2020 - 2:00pm