Peer-led support models have gained increasing popularity in suicide prevention. While previous reviews show positive effects of peer-led support for people with mental health problems and those bereaved by suicide, little is known about the types of lived experience peer support programs in suicide prevention and whether these are effective in improving the health and wellbeing of people at risk of suicide. The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of peer support programs that aim to reduce suicidality and are led by people with lived experience of suicide.
We conducted a systematic scoping review, involving a search of three academic (Medline, PsycINFO, Embase) and selected grey literature databases (Google Scholar, WHO Clinical Trials Registry) for publications between 2000 and 2019. We also contacted suicide prevention experts and relevant internet sites to identify peer support programs that exist but have not been evaluated. The screening of records followed a systematic two-stage process in alignment with PRISMA guidelines.
We identified 8 records accounting for 7 programs focussed on peer-led support programs in suicide prevention. These programs employed a range of different designs and included a variety of settings (schools, communities, rural and online). Only 3 of the 7 programs contained data on effectiveness. With the small number of eligible programs the findings from this review are limited and must be interpreted with caution.
Despite the increased focus of policymakers on the importance of peer support programs in suicide prevention, our scoping review confirms an evidence gap in research knowledge regarding program design, implementation, and effectiveness. More rigour is required in reporting peer-led support initiatives to clarify the underlying definition of peer support and lived experience and to enhance our understanding of the types of current peer support programs available to those experiencing suicidality. Further, we need formal and high-quality evaluations of peer support suicide prevention programs led by people with lived experience to better understand their effectiveness on participant health across different settings and delivery modalities and to allow for comprehensive systematic reviews and meta-analysis in future.