National Alliance on Mental Health Peer-Support Program Benefits Caregivers

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City Wendy Brennan attends the 8th Annual NAMIWalks NYC Event at South Street Seaport on May 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Family support services delivered by peer parents have emerged as a promising solution to improve engagement between caregiver and child.

NAMI Basics, a peer-support program developed by National Alliance on Mental Illness, had a positive effect on caregivers of children with mental health issues, found study data published in Psychiatric Services.

Family support services delivered by peer parents — parents with experience navigating complicated systems and situations concerning their children with mental health needs — have emerged as a promising solution to improve engagement between caregiver and child. Peer support services would especially benefit caregivers and children in underserved communities, where mental health needs often go unmet, the researchers reported.

To examine the impact of a peer-led group program on caregiver engagement and activation, the researchers evaluated 111 caregivers who signed up to participate in the NAMI Basics program. The caregivers resided throughout 5 cities in the southwest.

Caregivers completed a baseline survey within 2 weeks of the program start date. The program itself is 6 weeks long and involves weekly 2-and-a-half hour-long classes. The curriculum includes information on navigating difficult situations, crisis management, self-care, and navigating systems of care, among other topics. The study surveyed parent engagement, parenting stress, and child distress.

Most (69%) participants were women and almost all (95%) spoke English. Nearly half (45%) identified as Hispanic/Latinx and 12% identified as Black. Also, 35% said they lived at or below the federal poverty threshold.

Compared with caregivers on a waitlist, those in the NAMI Basics program reported significant increases in activation and engagement. Intentions toward seeking treatment also rose significantly for those in NAMI Basics compared with the waitlist group (P=.01).

Attitudes toward child services and stigma did not differ significantly between groups. The NAMI Basics enrollees did not report lower stress levels than the waitlist group, however, and the program also did not significantly affect children’s symptoms.

The short course duration and small sample size may have affected the outcome of the study, the researchers stated. They also lacked information about child diagnoses.

Despite the limitations of the study, NAMI Basics is readily available to caregivers and does show some benefit, the investigators noted.

“Future research should examine the effects of NAMI Basics on outcomes over a longer duration and assess pathways that may result in child-level changes,” the researchers concluded. “Given well-documented barriers to mental health services engagement, peer-parent support is an important resource to be leveraged.”


Bearman SK, Jamison JM, Lopez MA, Baker NM, Sanchez JE. Testing the impact of a peer-delivered family support program: a randomized clinical effectiveness trial. Psychiatr Serv. Published online January 18, 2021. doi:10.1176/