I was given a great opportunity to share the story and history of the Apogee Center today. An individual who connected to our Center during an extremely dark time now has a monthly radio show on the local broadcast station. The story is traditionally about the history of Columbia County. This month he decided to branch out and also cover the services available to help those struggling. We talked a bit about the history of the peer services movement, but mostly we talked about how individuals lives have changed because of the Center. There were two individuals who shared some inspiring personal stories of transformation. It was such a great opportunity to reestablish the reason for this work. To prepare for the interview, I did some digging about what peer support is.
Peer support is a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. Peer support is not based on psychiatric models and diagnostic criteria. It is about understanding another’s situation empathically through the shared experience of emotional and psychological pain. When people find affiliation with others whom they feel are “like” them, they feel a connection.
Peer Support changes that dynamic. It asks individuals, not what is wrong but what happened along their life journey? Peer Supports also ask what is strong about the person? What is working within the person, and how can what is working be strengthened to leverage changes the person is seeking for their life. The entire mental health system is shifting. There is a greater focused being placed on recovery-The process of change in which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. The old belief that mental health struggles are a lifelong condition which one suffers through is being replaced by a greater understanding that the mental health challenges can be managed and/or overcome entirely. It has been through this transformation that peer support services have expanded.
I felt so honored and humbled to be present while individuals shared their stories of recovery. To hear, and be reminded, that the ability to listen and connect based on a shared experience can be the thing that shifts individuals from despair to hope. I’m truly grateful for all the individuals who share their story with me and allow me to be a part of their journey.