Horizon Health Network offers hope to youth with mental health issues at PEER 126


This story is part of a collection featuring improvements from the Atlantic Healthcare Collaboration for Innovation and Improvement in Chronic Disease (AHC).

The Challenge

It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder. More alarming is the fact that suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year old Canadians, second only to accidents. And schizophrenia is the most common form of mental illness among youth, developing most often in the 16- to 30-year-old age group and affecting an estimated one in 100 youth.

In Saint John, New Brunswick, there was a pressing need to develop supports for youth living with mental illness, and studies demonstratethat early intervention can prevent a lifetime of struggle. To fill this need, Horizon Health Network founded PEER 126 (Peers Engaged in Education and Recovery), a place where young people experiencing mental health challenges can vist a drop-in centre. At the same time, Peer 126 had not undertaken a formal evaluation to measure the qualitative and quantitative results of participation in the program.

The Solution

With funding from Horizon Health Network and Medavie Health Foundation, PEER 126 offers a suite of programs for 16- to 29-year olds in Saint John. Located in downtown Saint John (on 126 Duke Street, where PEER gets the numeric part of its name), PEER 126 has rooms for art, music, reading, video games, as well as its own kitchen and place to consult the program lead, who is a recreation therapist. Programming at PEER 126 promotes recovery, engagement and education on self-determination, life goals and positive relationships.

“Programming at PEER 126 promotes recovery, engagement and education on selfdetermination, life goals and positive relationships.”

The centre has a number of programs to help youth achieve their goals:

  • Organized volunteering opportunities – An important part of building social and employment skills – youth benefit from engaging and interacting with others.
  • Employment skills development – An eight week program focused on building employment skills such as resumé writing, identifying appropriate topics to talk about with customers, and building confidence to use the transit system to get to work.
  • Graduated work – Arranged with supportive employers for youth who are not ready to work more than 10 hours a week.
  • Peer support – Offered by staff who have significant mental health issues themselves, who work closely with PEER 126 members.
  • “Talk to the doc” – A once-a-week opportunity to speak to a psychiatrist at PEER 126.
  • Addiction counselling – An addiction clinician meets with the youth weekly
  • Art and music – Fosters self-expression of thoughts and feelings.

Initially, PEER 126 relied on word of mouth and the paid youth peer support workers for promotion and awareness raising. But today, PEER 126 relies on posters, advertisements and social media to encourage attendance and membership among youth experiencing mental health issues. Youth can visit PEER 126 and receive a tour of the clinic as well as engage in a discussion with the program staff about their goals and aspirations. The most common goals participants cite are employment, which provides personal and financial independence; a place to go and things to do, as well as developing meaningful friendships.

“By being a part of the Atlantic Healthcare Collaborative, we […] were able to network with other provincial project members, share experiences and garner ideas for improvement. [CFHI faculty and coaches] supported the team in daring to challenge the traditional model for service delivery and provide support for youth with mental illness that is designed for them by them!"

The Results

Working with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement through the AHC, the PEER 126 team created and undertook a developmental evaluation of more than 97 youth who PEER 126 has engaged since opening in 2012, as well as the more than 77 youth who continue to use the service today.

Chart reviews and surveys conducted throughout 2013-2014 after being introduced to PEER 126 found that:

  • Youth were more reliant on primary healthcare, rather than urgent care
    • For example, they had more visits to family physicians and walk-in clinics to address personal health matters; and less use of community crisis response and visits to the emergency department at the regional hospital as well as fewer hospital admissions for a mental health diagnosis at the regional hospital
  • Youth reported progress in terms of meeting personal goals such as employment and friendship, e.g., friendships and activities showed the most significant progress; while participants reported developing skills for future employment as they progress toward active employment.
  • Youth reported improvements in their housing, work, financial situation, school/education and reducing addictions

The Spread

Horizon Health Network is committed to PEER 126 and is continuing to support work focused on youth mental health. The centre has sustainable funding and Medavie Health Foundation, a significant supporter of this innovative model, has committed funding through 2017.

PEER 126 is considered an innovative community model for the expansion of safe spaces for youth who are struggling with mental health problems across New Brunswick. PEER 126 is part a pan-provincial effort supported through the Transformational Research in Adolescent Mental Health (TRAM) $25 million grant made possible through joint funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Graham Boeckh Foundation to create safe spaces for youth mental health.

PEER 126 presented its work at the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research (CAHSPR) conference in Toronto in May 2014. The team behind PEER 126 also shared their results at the National Health Leadership Conference (NHLC) held in June 2015.


Annette HarlandAnnette Harland
Clinical Liaison
PEER 126
Horizon Health Network




Sue Haley-Lajoie-125Sue Haley-Lajoie
Director, Addiction & Mental Health
Horizon Health Network