Caitlin Fehily

Dr Caitlin Fehily is an early career researcher working within the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle. Her research interests include addressing the inequitable chronic disease burden experienced by people with a mental health condition. In particular, Caitlin’s research has focused on building the capacity of mental health services to provide support for health and lifestyle factors, including tobacco smoking, nutrition, alcohol, physical inactivity and overweight/obesity. Caitlin is involved in a number of research projects across local and national community mental health services, community managed organisations, telephone-based support services, and other health service settings.


Title: Exploring and building the role of the peer workforce in supporting healthy lifestyle

Author(s): Caitlin Fehily, Sophie Love, Jessica Whitfield, Holly Winchester, Simone Lodge, Jenny Bowman

Introduction: In government mental health services the peer workforce has an increasingly unique and valued role in enhancing mental health recovery, informed by lived experience. Peer workers are powerful role models for behaviour change, and may also promote healthy lifestyle changes e.g., physical activity, nutrition, sleep. Workforce development initiatives (e.g., training and resources) may aid in further building capacity of the peer workforce to support healthy lifestyle.

Method: This project aims to recognise and build the role of peer workers working in government mental health settings in providing support for healthy lifestyles. The research will occur across 2 stages. Stage 1 aims to explore the perspectives and experiences of peer workers and people with lived experience about the role of peer workers in providing support for healthy lifestyle (one-on-one qualitative interviews and surveys). Stage 2 aims to co-develop support strategies to build the capacity of peer workers in providing healthy lifestyle support. This will involve a series of workshops with peer workers, people with lived experience and managers; to consider findings from Stage 1 as well as their own experiences, to develop suggestions for strategies to help peer workers in providing lifestyle support e.g., training, resources, guides.

Results & Findings: The project is currently in Stage 1. Findings so far confirm the peer workforce has an important role in supporting people with healthier lifestyle, strengthened by the unique qualities of the peer workforce including shared experiences, knowledge of unique challenges, and relatability. Considerations include understanding difference in experience e.g., health needs.

Discussion: This research will contribute to reducing the inequity of chronic disease morbidity and mortality experienced by people with a mental health condition.