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Mental Health Awareness Month 2023

As we observe Mental Health Awareness month once again, we find ourselves in the aftermath of a pandemic that revealed the gaps in our support systems with many tragic statistics representing the pain and loss of our individual communities. However, out of necessity and purpose, programs and services emerged, and perhaps the most beneficial of these is the exponential rise of Peer and Recovery Coaching (RC). For those just entering the Human Services field, I want to highlight some concepts and frameworks that may be helpful to incorporate or explore further.

Origin Story The modern peer support movement began to organize in the 1970s, a time when thousands of patient/inmates were being released into the community. As hospitals and asylums closed, funds that had been spent on institutional care did not necessarily follow patients into their communities. Unfortunately, many communities were ill-equipped to provide the necessary care and support for these individuals. In fact, many were unwilling to have ex-patient/survivors living in their towns and cities. It was during this time that a new wave of activism emerged in the mental health community.

As a result, ex-patient peer support groups began to form as a response to the lack of resources and services available to people with mental health challenges. These groups were largely made up of individuals who had experienced mental health challenges themselves and who had firsthand knowledge of the issues faced by those living with mental health conditions.

These support groups quickly became a powerful force in the mental health community. They provided a safe and supportive space for individuals to share their experiences, connect with others, and learn from one another. These groups also became a place for advocacy, as members began to speak out about the need for better resources and services for people with mental health challenges.

Some notable pioneers in this movement include:

  • Judi Chamberlin: An American psychiatric survivor, writer, and activist who co-founded the Mental Patients Liberation Front in 1970. She was a strong advocate for the rights of people with mental illness and wrote the influential book "On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System" in 1978.

  • Howie the Harp: A former psychiatric patient who co-founded the New York City-based peer-run organization, "Project Renewal" in 1977. He was a well-known advocate for the rights of people with mental illness and helped to establish peer-run crisis services in New York City.

  • Shery Mead: A pioneer in the development of peer-run services and the co-founder of the Consortium for the Advancement of Peer Support (CAPS).

  • Mary Ellen Copeland: An American mental health advocate and author who has written extensively on recovery-oriented approaches to mental health care. She co-founded the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery.

Today, the peer support movement has grown into a global network of organizations and individuals working to support people with mental health challenges. Peer support workers are trained professionals who provide a range of services, including individual and group support, education, advocacy, and community outreach.

Additionally, Recovery coaching has gained popularity in recent years, as more and more people recognize the benefits of this type of approach. It is a model of care that is person-centered, empowering, and holistic. Recovery coaching recognizes that recovery is a journey, not a destination, and that individuals need support and guidance to maintain their recovery over the long-term.

The modern Peer movement and the rise of Recovery Coaching have been instrumental in shifting the health care system towards a more recovery-oriented approach. These services of care have shown that people with lived experience and who want to remove barriers to services have valuable insights and expertise to offer, and that mutual support and shared experience can be powerful tools for promoting recovery and wellbeing.

Peer Disruption The Peer and Coaching field is a form of disruption to many current systems that are still practicing punitive, coercive approaches. Revolutionary in its approach to supporting individuals on their journeys, it is rooted in mutuality, non-coercion, the power of choice, and healing-centered practices. This means that the approach emphasizes the shared experience of both the peer and the person they are supporting, empowering people to take control of their lives, build self-esteem, and improve their overall wellbeing.

Peer and Coaching services are a collaborative process where the peer/coach and the individual work together to achieve their goals and outcomes. It recognizes that everyone has something to offer, people are experts of their own experience and that the peer/coach and the person being supported can learn from each other.

Points to Consider Here are a few points to highlight regarding this lane:

  • Non-coercion is a crucial component of this approach, as it ensures that the individual being supported is not forced to do anything they do not want to do. The power of choice is another essential component, allowing individuals to make decisions about their own lives and recovery.

  • Healing-centered Engagement practices are also crucial components of peer-based mental health. These practices focus on building resilience, supporting the individual's strengths, and promoting holistic wellbeing. They recognize that mental health is not just about the absence of illness, but also about the presence of wellness.

  • Peer & RC services are a collaborative process where the peer/coach and the individual work together to achieve their goals, not the goals imparted or created by the provider. This approach recognizes that everyone has something to offer, and that the peer support worker and the person being supported can learn from each other. It is based on the principle that people can help themselves and each other, and that recovery is possible for everyone.

Overwhelmingly, the benefits of peer-based mental health are numerous. It is empowering, person-centered, and holistic, allowing individuals to take control of their recovery journey and make choices that work for them. It also promotes resilience, supports the individual's strengths, and has been shown to reduce hospitalizations, improve social functioning, and increase the overall quality of life for individuals with mental health challenges. One particular example of this are Peer Run respites. Peer respites provide a safe and supportive environment for people experiencing a mental health crisis, staffed by people with lived experience of mental health challenges who provide peer support.

In our society, where punitive and coercive approaches are still prevalent, the rise of Peer and Recovery Coaching is a beacon of hope. It represents a shift toward social justice and a more humane approach to mental health care. As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness month, let us continue to explore and incorporate these concepts and frameworks in our work, and advocate for their wider adoption in the recovery support services field.

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