Over the last decade or two, the mental health system of care has been paying much more attention to the “peer movement” and the need for individuals receiving mental health services to make their voices heard in mental health programs and other human service organizations. At Services for the UnderServed (SUS), our mental health consumers have taken the peer movement a step further: outside the walls of our programs and into the larger community.
This year’s class members of the SUS Project PREPARE (People in Recovery Engaging People thru Advocacy, Respect and Encouragement) Peer Training Program were invited by NYAPRS to share their experiences about what helped and what hindered the recovery process while hospitalized in psychiatric settings. Two SUS peers, Ann Telesford and Margaret Monroe, from the Project PREPARE graduating class of 2012, as well as an ACT Team member, presented to a range of hospital staff, which included psychiatrists, social workers, nurses and peer-bridgers of the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center on Long Island. SUS peer presenters spoke with eloquence and passion about the critical need to protect human rights and promote alternatives to psychiatric restraints, as well as the importance of staff offering hope and showing a sense of compassion to individuals facing their most difficult times.
In addition, the class of the Project PREPARE Program and SUS Clubhouse peer specialist staff, Maria Sanchez, attended the Mental Health Planning Forum sponsored by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Consumer Affairs. Ms. Sanchez and several peers-in-training provided public testimony about ways in which to improve services and programs in NYC’s mental health service delivery system. Ms. Sanchez described her experience attending the Forum along with SUS peers, “This group inspired me so much that I actually spoke at the forum and I’m basically a shy person when it comes to speaking in front of a large crowd.”
Whether we identify as a peer provider or social worker, consumer or staff, in recovery from a mental health condition, or making our way toward that end…. let us remember that it is each and every one of our responsibilities to promote human rights, share key information and community resources, provide meaningful opportunities to one another, and ultimately, to help eliminate the trauma of stigma that often brings far greater suffering than any mental health condition itself. To paraphrase the great civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi, and consider a question that the SUS community often asks ourselves: If we do not take part in the change we wish to see in the world, who will?
National Association of Peer Specialist Services: http://www.naops.org
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services: http://www.nyaprs.org
NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Office of Consumer Affairs: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/dmh/dmh-oca.shtml