NC CANSO desires to see progressive change in our state with regard to how our state-wide community respects and encourages us and our friends. In recent years, North Carolina has talked about becoming oriented toward recovery in its mental health service system. This means as a state, there is a growing will to focus more on people’s strengths, possibilities, and growth rather than on deficits, with services aimed more at crisis and symptom management. Yet the fastest way to forge a path toward a recovery culture (because we simply are not there yet!) is to engage persons with the lived experience of having mental struggles, addiction, or even some kinds of intellectual or developmental disabilities in both challenging and supporting each other to live better! Yes, in the states where the recovery culture and real life outcomes show reduced crises and hospitalizations (especially re-hospitalization!) there is enlisted the strength, empowerment, and integrity of a strong peer support force!
In fact, in the state of New York (as just one example), many of its most productive services are peer-delivered–perhaps even from agencies that are peer-operated. The factor that has enhanced the growth of peer-services and innovation has been the willingness of several persons with their own recovery experiences to take risks on their own innovations all within a close span of years. It is some of these risk-takers whom this writer considers as mentors. But first, there was a strong culture of consumer empowerment and peer support that influenced these courageous innovations. Further, in that state the emphasis on a different paradigm of care has been so strong in part because a core of the service system has been the use of psychiatric rehabilitation as the backbone of the service array rather than the medically centered approach. And you cannot separate psychiatric rehabilitation (social and functional recovery) from peer support.
What does recovery look like? What does it feel like? What have been some of the road blocks against which people most often struggle? Are we satisfied with recovery or is there even a bigger picture? Without clarity on these, it is difficult for a system to have a true and vibrant vision of the recovery culture we so definitely need. And who can best lend that clarity but those who have walked the walk? These are not profound ideas, but somehow, our state obviously has not sufficiently valued them.
According to the North Carolina Peer Support Specialist Program http://pss-sowo.unc.edu/pssjobs there are currently 721 Certified Peer Support Specialists in our state already. Yet only a fraction of these individuals have found jobs yet (by the way, jobs are posted on the website given). Meanwhile, our state could solve many problems through qualified, dedicated professional peer support specialists.
We are about to undertake the in-reach into adult care homes across our state to ensure that citizens who wish to leave these settings are supported to do this safely and optimally, with growth and possibility being objectives for these efforts. We cannot do this well without peer transition specialists and the lens of hope through which they view life.
High numbers of repeat re-hospitalizations could be minimized by peer bridgers who help with transition from hospital to the community.
Homeless persons with disabilities would have a better chance at finding homes. Housing is more available than many think—but housing managers want assurance of Supported Housing programs which in other states are offered by peer specialists.
Supported employment as a practice is a new objective for our state. Peer specialists can also be very effective employment specialists and network builders.
Persons with mental illness or addiction with other chronic diagnoses can improve the quality and quantity of their years through a disease management approach with the support of Peer Wellness Coaches. A pilot of such a program is beginning in Winston Salem in October.
Volunteer and paid roles for CPSS through peer centers and recovery education centers are community assets that must not be underestimated in our need to develop self-help and mutual support groups across the state.
The successful future of North Carolina’s response to persons with mental health challenges, addiction, and some other disabilities will depend on how truly we embrace mutual support and self-help in our communities. NC CANSO knows peer support is the vehicle.