I’m doing training again for OPDI this week and while it is very different group from the one I trained three weeks ago they are group with equal enthusiasm for the work of Peer Support. The difference perhaps is that this group are going to have to work a little harder to make inroads with Peer Support in their communities. The powers that be in their areas have not seen fit to make Peer Support a priority for funding.
We talked about that today for a while. How after almost 20 years of proving over and over again the “best practice” is still not recognized. Other best practices take about 10 years from proof to practice but this one has taken much longer.
Why? I have some thoughts.
The mental health system is the lowest on the totem pole of medical funding. It lacks the glamour and passion that are given to things like breast cancer and diabetes. It is rather that “thing we would just rather not talk about”. The psychiatric doctors are even on the bottom of the medical pecking order and lack respect among their peers. What they do is not respected because after all, “If those people would just pull up their socks and decide to get better they wouldn’t have any problems.”
Yes stigma around mental health and addiction issues still exists. People who live with these issues also lack the advocacy support of families. Often the very nature of their illness ostracizes those who love them and the social attitude is one which says people with these “illnesses” have a choice.
I can’t imagine that if someone who hears voices, or feels useless and suicidal or someone who is drug dependent or can’t get out of bed without taking a drink actually wants that to be their reality. They have options to seek treatment just like someone who is living with cancer does but unlike that cancer patient they are not living in a society which supports them in seeking that help. They also live in a reality where the services for their issues are underfunded and in many cases nonexistent. It can take months to get a psychiatrist or a clinician. Someone seeking treatment for addiction could die before a treatment bed becomes available. The help they need lacks political will and societal acceptance.
Enter Peer Support. These are the folks who know what it’s like to live with a mental health or addiction issue. They have patience, understanding and compassion for their peers. They believe their is hope. They know how to find it because they have done so in their own lives. They know that if someone comes along side to support and helps you hang on long enough you can begin to find your way through the maze of treatments, pharmaceuticals, services and roadblocks.
Peer supporters also understand things like poverty which often accompany these issues. They know how to survive on $600 a month from welfare. They know the resources for the needs of the whole person.
So this is why my feet hurt. I stood in front of 19 mental health consumers for a great part of the day and shared my knowledge and belief in peer support. I don’t want them to have sore feet but I sure hope they catch some of my passion.