What is the system challenge?

The degree to which lived experience or peer involvement is valued as a form of expertise and is integrated into French-language mental health and substance use services across Toronto varies across and between organizations.

By “peers,” we mean people who expect that their experience of mental health and substance use issues will be valued when supporting others and working to improve services. Historically, peers have felt disempowered and defined by the stigmatizing labels associated with their mental health status.

Peer experience is expertise; peers have a unique perspective about what works and what needs improvement, but often experience tokenistic and paternalistic treatment from systems - well-intentioned treatment that can be harmful as it often fails to involve peers in the decisions that impact them.

Consultations with six Francophone health and social services organizations in the City of Toronto revealed that some of the major barriers to better integrating lived experience include:

  • historical ways of working/a lack of precedent - it has not typically been done;
  • the organizational culture;
  • lack of a common language and understanding of peer/self-advocacy movement;
  • leadership buy-in;
  • stigma and privacy within close-knit communities; and
  • the ideological divide between peers and service professionals.

Despite these barriers, health and social services organizations are eager to further integrate lived experience and develop partnerships that lead towards better client outcomes based on knowledge exchange and resource sharing.

What are we doing about it?

With the support of Reflet Salvéo and the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, L’initiative d’intégration des pairs consulted with community partners with the goal of better understanding and integrating lived experience into French-language services in Toronto.

Le projet d’integration des pairs will adapt the values and approaches of Peer Positive for use with French-language services and piloted with an organization that serves Francophone communities in Toronto. Peer Positive engages peers in the design, delivery, and review of services and is guided by deliberate efforts to re-balance power relationships between peers and professionals.

Skills and knowledge-building training for people with lived experience will be provided to help support the project.

?What's this?


Based on the findings of the Exploration stage, l’initiative d’intégration des pairs began building agency implementation teams, developing evaluation tools, and establishing a schedule of support for implementation team members, which includes training, coaching, and evaluation oversight. This project will also make Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) training available for people with lived experience who wish to contribute by building their peer support skills.

Next Steps