How to Find Your People!

Hi Everyone! Man, my last post really seemed to resonate with people. Thanks for all of the comments on and off of my blog. If you missed it, you can check it out here. That single post generated more traffic than I've gotten in any single month since I started my blog, so I can't thank everyone enough for sharing it! You guys are awesome, and I appreciate your support.

In keeping with last week's theme I wanted to say a little bit about Peer Support, which is a formalized name for the phenomenon I was talking about. Lots of different agencies that provide mental health care are beginning to see the value in peer support. The idea is that people who have been where you are can walk with you, and maybe even guide you. The VA has started hiring peer counselors along with regional mental health authorities in several major cities. Peer support can sometimes focus solely on Substance Use Disorders, or can be broader and focus on Mental Health as well. Peer support is considered an essential component of Mental Health Recovery according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I like the idea of peer support because it's empowering to my clients. It doesn't ask the question, what can the professionals do to "fix" you. Instead it asks, what can you do help yourself? How can I, as a professional, be of service to you? It also allows people to own their own victories which I endorse whole-heartedly.

The National Consensus Statement on Mental Health Recovery defines Peer Support as:

Mutual support—including the sharing of experiential knowledge and skills and social learning—plays an invaluable role in recovery. Consumers encourage and engage other consumers in recovery and provide each other with a sense of belonging, suppportive relationships, valued roles, and community.

When you consider how isolated and impotent people struggling with a Mental Health Recovery can feel, this is a pretty big damn deal.

In my mind Peer Support can be divided into two general forms. The first is fairly informal. This is the kind of support that you find in places like support groups for specific areas. If you need to be supported through grieving you can attend peer-led support groups for grief. In Austin, you can try My Healing Place and The Christi Center. Having trouble with a divorce? Check out a support group for divorce. Need help with parenting. There is a group for that. 12-step recovery meetings fall into this category, along with other support groups for mental health and Substance Use Disorders such as Refuge Recovery, Life Ring, and Secular Organization for Sobriety. Lots of these meetings can be accessed online through chat rooms.

The second "brand" of peer support is more formal. It's usually a paying gig within a larger organization that provides services to those recovering from Mental Health or Substance Use Disorders. These peers generally go through training and may have some sort of certification. While it seems like this is a relatively new phenomenon in Mental Health Care with roots in the early '90s, the history can be traced back as far as the 1700s. You can read more about it in this paper published by the Yale University Medical School Program for Recovery and Community Health. The gist of the paper is that Peer Support generally reduces substance use, helps people engage in treatment, and reduces the use of emergency rooms and hospitals for people in crisis. Additionally it increases clients' sense of hope and shifts their locus of control back to self. Clients who work with peers take better care of themselves, feel like they can make changes in their own lives, and generally are more satisfied with life overall. Ultimately the severity of depression and psychosis are reduced. Sounds good to me!

If you're interested in engaging in peer support find your peers and ask for some support by checking out the links above! Or, if you'd like a more formal relationship check out some of the resources below:

NAMI Austin Peer-to-Peer is a free 10-session educational program led by people in Mental Health Recovery.

The Military Veteran Peer Network is resource for Veterans all over Texas. Regardless of the struggles you may be dealing with, MVPN can probably help. Full disclosure--I used to work part-time for this organization in Austin, and it's awesome! I want to point out that they can engage with you and provide services regardless of the characterization of your discharge from military service.

Communities for Recovery in Austin offers Peer Recovery Coaching for those in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders and Co-Occurring Disorders (SUD and another Mental Health Diagnosis).

Additionally, all of these organizations can link you with training to become a Peer Recovery Coach or Peer Support Specialist if you feel like your experience would be helpul to others. Another source for training is ViaHope. They often have scholarships available if you'd like to be come a Peer Support Specialist.

If you know of a resource I haven't listed here please add it in the comments below. I'm working on a resource page, and hopefully will have it up and running soon.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to like, share, or comment if you have questions or comments. And if there is something you'd like to see here, definitely drop me a line!