Different Roles for Peer Specialists

(November 22, 2021) by HOWARD DIAMOND 

About a month ago, when Kevin Woods looked out his upstairs window one morning, he noticed a man and his teenage granddaughter weeding in the bushes. Of course, it was his landlord, Sam Henderson, and his fifteen year old daughter, Vanessa. Several minutes later, Kevin made his way out the door to talk with them. They discussed tending the garden and what flowers were going to be planted. Sam knows that Kevin suffers with anxiety and often does not leave his five room place for days. As a landlord, Sam wants to keep his property looking green and filled every year with colorful flowers and bushes. 

Farmer hands holding young plant with soil

As a friend, Sam and Vanessa come by and at once weekly so they don’t fall behind in their gardening, which Kevin appreciates. Also, when is needed, Sam supports him in any way possible. Recently, Kevin moved to this particular suburban area and his needs, especially his garden and other things seemed to become a community project. Not only does Sam do the garden, he organized other neighbors (some of whom Kevin has never met). They often ring his bell or knock on the door with canned goods, cooked meals, cookies, muffins and once in a while a full multi-course meal. Neighbors also offer Kevin various forms of assistance. We all live here in this county, Theresa explained as she handed Kevin a fresh batch of brownies. We’re all in this together, another gentleman named Elijah said.

These helpful neighbors were peers; by where and how they lived in the same county neighborhood. This was a form of support I thought had ended decades earlier. This begs an important question:

Is it peer support? 

In my opinion, I believe this is. Although, the example is not true, but it is based on an account from a few years ago. To put this simply, peer support happens when a group of individuals in a particular circumstance reach out to help others in the same or a very similar situation. Also, it is the act of a person or persons reaching out to others to assist them cope with their life challenges. Peer support can be organized through formal classes or it can occur informally. The crucial aspect is that people are able to aid others in the same or similar circumstances through what they have learned from their own personal lives and experiences.

This type of help can and does take many forms. We are seeing it increase often as people around the globe deal with a plethora of challenges and seek out each other for much needed assistance. This is not a new concept. A generation or two ago, neighbors commonly helped neighbors during times of distress. It wasn’t unusual for neighbors to reach out to others in their neighborhoods to offer support. 

Another example of this is when Michael was younger and his friend, Bob was stricken with a serious illness. Although it was several years ago, a steady stream of their neighbors stopped by Bob’s local home. They brought meals, babysat his sisters and sometimes Michael just sat with his parents as Bob often hung between life and death. Of course, Michael attempted to play games with Bob, talk and be with him and offer some encouragement. Once again, this type of support continued through Bob’s eventual recovery. Until his complete recuperation, pies were baked, pets were fed, plus they went to the pharmacy when and if it was necessary. Bob’s family was so grateful that his mother said she would reciprocate. When Bob recovered, his mother was true to her word, as neighbors were driven to the local supermarket, the bank and where they needed to go. 

Years later, Michael went to college and his family moved away.  As for Bob, he also went to University, graduated top ten percent of his class, became a local councilman and then became  the mayor. Michael moved back locally and renewed friendship with Bob. He was a successful psychologist and often campaigned for his pal, Bob.

Over the decades, our society as a whole has changed. In many areas, many individuals grow up in their lives, not even knowing their neighbors. Peer supporters and Peer Specialists are, in several ways, a return to the days when people cared about the welfare of their neighbors and communities by offering what they could to help. As a result, Peer Specialists are more important than ever. Now it is more organized than ever before with support organizations for those with Mental Health, Cancer, Diabetes, Heart Disease,  Addictions, Learning Disabilities, and Epilepsy to name just a few. For Peer Specialists like myself, there is a link between caring that results from a bond of commonality and our experiences. Most recently for me that common relevance was simply living in the same suburban neighborhood, as others.           

Although we are often isolated by our own lifestyles, we remain linked through the similar trials and tribulations of overall triumphant human life. An even broader look of how peer support is delivered by Peer Specialists. Maybe at first, it can be uncomfortable for those who have been called Peer Specialists, not only in terms of mental health, but now has created openings for us to new and intriguing possibilities that can be very exciting and exhilarating. By broadly defining peer support and recognizing its intrinsic value in all contexts can help to further establish Peer Specialists as an expected and welcomed part of the human encounter.   

When it comes to mental health support, the reality is that support rarely involves just a single issue. Substance abuse, poverty, incarceration, housing, employment, physical ailments, and a host of other issues make Peer Specialists and the relationships they build even more relevant in our society. Peer support is too broad and too valuable to relate only to mental health. The values that drive peer support apply to a broader range of human experiences which often embraces this ideal. So this important notion of how peer support evolves welcomes vastly more people and enriches our perspectives about life challenges. In addition, Peer Specialists create greater opportunities for reciprocal sharing of experiences and all our various past lessons learned. 

Instead of attempting to carve out a narrow niche based on what peer support was, or is, an exclusive focus on mental health or addiction support may be an unproductive way to proceed. Instead, let us be inclusive of the larger segments of society that can and should have the abilities to contribute to the value of the human experience. Often we have little or no contact with our neighbors and are immediately suspicious of kind acts by strangers. During this 21st century we relate to others, too often, via computer screens instead of being together and having friendly conversations in our communities. 

However, peer supporters and Peer Specialists have continued to strategize in a way that compensates for changes in how we converse with one another. Currently, partly due to COVID19, Support groups are formed online, e-mails and plenty of social media platforms try to keep people connected. Only the methods have changed. As an overall community, as a country and as a civilization, we must pursue in finding new ways to help and support each other by communicating more effectively our needs and wants, without doing any harm to ourselves or others. Why wait, let us start now. Nice concept, isn’t this?

Both stories are fictionalized, but the accounts are based on facts.

See you in the NewsBlogs.

Howard Diamond is a New York State Certified Peer Specialist  from Long Island 

Transgender Day of Remembrance 11/20

(Photo Credit: Forbes Magazine)

(November 19, 2021: Submitted by Matt Canuteson, OMH Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Greetings,

As Transgender Day of Remembrance approaches, OMH wishes to reaffirm its commitment to actively working to promote a more inclusive and respectful environment for all.

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) occurs annually on November 20th, at the conclusion of Transgender Awareness Week (November 13-19). TDOR was started in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil also honored transgender individuals who had lost their lives to violence since Rita Hester’s death and ultimately began a tradition that has now become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

TDOR is a day to honor all of the lives of transgender people, particularly trans people of color, who have been killed due to hate-related violence. This year alone, over 40 trans individuals have lost their lives in the United States.

This Transgender Day of Remembrance, may we also reflect on the unique challenges that transgender and nonbinary individuals have faced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted the longstanding disparities that exist for transgender and nonbinary individuals, including higher rates of mental health conditions and barriers to gender affirming care. OMH remains committed to holding the mental health system accountable to reducing disparities in quality, treatment and access outcomes for marginalized and underserved populations.

Additionally, OMH continues to create and disseminate educational resources, tip-sheets and materials across its various platforms that highlight special populations and available resources. In alignment with these efforts, OMH has created two resources that provide additional information on the unique experiences and challenges faced by transgender and nonbinary individuals. Additionally, these resources highlight the importance of using gender affirming language and provide guidance around terms to use and terms to avoid.

Language Matters: Gender

Spotlight on Gender

OMH will continue to ensure that transgender and nonbinary individuals have their voices heard and are actively involved in OMH’s efforts to improve service delivery and programmatic developments. These focused efforts include ensuring there is representation from transgender and nonbinary individuals in OMH’s stakeholder and advisory bodies. Additionally, OMH will continue to promote training and educational opportunities focused on providing gender affirming care across the mental health system.

This Transgender Day of Remembrance, we invite you to join OMH in promoting equity and inclusion for all!

Matthew Canuteson
Pronouns: He, Him, His
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
44 Holland Ave 2nd Floor, Albany, NY 12229
518-473-4548
matthew.canuteson@omh.ny.gov
www.omh.ny.gov

Federal Funding for State’s Mental Health Peer Workforce

GOVERNOR HOCHUL ANNOUNCES AVAILABILITY OF $4 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDING TO STRENGTHEN THE STATE’S MENTAL HEALTH PEER WORKFORCE

Funding Will Support Increase in Treatment Options and Expansion of Workforce

Governor Kathy Hochul today announced that the New York State Office of Mental Health has secured $4 million in workforce recruitment and retention funds that will help strengthen the state’s mental health system by increasing access to peer services that support individuals and families in a wide array of treatment and service options.

“Mental health matters, and I want every New Yorker to know that they are not alone,” Governor Hochul said. “We will continue to strengthen our state’s mental health services to meet the needs of New Yorkers as part of our recovery from the pandemic.”

(Read the full press release.)

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE

by HOWARD DIAMOND (November 5, 2021)

[Editor’s Disclaimer, the following article presents one perspective on Thanksgiving. For an alternate perspective, please read the National Day of Mourning, an annual protest organized and held since 1970. For those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving, may we also remember the Native ancestors and the struggles of Native Americans today.]

Wikipedia

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, Halloween has past

People ate candy like there will be no tomorrow 

Taking stock of our lives cause it goes by very fast 

Let us make November a month without sorrow.


GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, each year we get out and vote

Sometimes it is for the President of the United States

Candidates striving to be a hero and less like a goat

To make our country strong without any borders or gates.


GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, where veterans are remembered

Fighting around the globe for our continual freedom 

Protecting everyone from our foes and never surrendered 

Using all of the strength and all of the wisdom.


GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, remembering my dad

Dying forty years ago this month on the 23rd

Always wishing that were more years to be had

Mostly he was the one who carved the holiday bird.

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, dreaming of a world without fear

A concept of humanity that is too far to touch 

Holding hands with family and friends who are precious and dear

Really is this asking everyone in the world too much?

GOBBLE GOOBLE GOBBLE, ready to give our thanks

Do we even know what we are grateful for

Some of us have money in various banks

While others have little and are very poor.

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, let us focus on turkey

Filling our stomachs with all that we dare

Focusing on the positive of what needs to be

Spending the day with those that care.

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, plenty leftovers to eat

Getting through the period without any pains

Finishing last month by going trick or treat

Almost another month is done and only one remains.

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE,  the last month begun

Pacing the day in a sequence making it easier to get through

Wrapping each gift one at a time needs to get done

Ending the year playing Auld Lang Syne to bring in 2022.

GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, remember to “Stuff the bird, not yourself”

It is a good idea to be courteous and not to eat like the locals hogs

Remain truthful to others plus more importantly to oneself

Instead read poems plus articles and I’ll see you in the NewsBlogs.


HOWARD DIAMOND is a CERTIFIED PEER SPECIALIST from LONG ISLAND 

Word of Wellness

Courtesy Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey
(November 1, 2021)

Editors: Peggy Swarbrick and Pat Nemec

In this edition–  (open PDF)

  • Enhancing Immune Health
  • Gratitude
  • World Kindness Day

A collaboration between staff from Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, Inc. and researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago Center on Mental Health Services Research and Policy led to the development of an Enhancing Immune Health manual. We’ve designed this material specifically to educate people who wish to understand and enhance their immune health. This manual will become part of the UIC Solutions Suite, and its modules can be used alone or together to teach a five-week class on improving immunity. The modules are:

  • What is Immune Health?
  • Vaccination & Health Screening for Improved Immunity
  • Adequate Sleep for Immune Health
  • Managing Stress for Stronger Immunity
  • Functional Foods, Immunity Aids, & Finding Credible Health Information

Each module is written using an “Explain, Evaluate, and Engage” framework:

To view the complete Words of Wellness November newsletter, click here.

Funding opportunity to Expand Peer Capacity

(Courtesy Office of Mental Health, Public Information Office: October 29, 2021)

The New York State Office of Mental Health is providing one-time targeted investments to recruit and retain Certified and Credentialed Peer Specialists and Advocates providing services in OMH-licensed, funded, and designated voluntary operated programs to improve consumer experience and outcomes. The investments will fall into two distinct categories: Retention Investment and Recruitment Investment.

Please see the following announcement for more information about the goals of the funding and eligibility standards.

ANNOUNCEMENT

This information is also available in the New York State Contract Reporter at: https://www.nyscr.ny.gov/adsOpen.cfm?ID=8A6C9024-B334-4C33-B5EA-8DFE5F0B5660.

Public Information Office, Office of Mental Health

44 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12229

www.omh.ny.gov

Spotlight on MHA Peer Training Academy

(October 28, 2021 – Submitted by MHA Rochester)

Starting this month, we will feature different training organizations in New York State that are providing in-person or “live” virtual training for peer specialists based, in part, on the Academy of Peer Services online certification training and testing. Please visit their websites for more information.

The MHA Peer Training Academy offers a 4-week classroom training and up to a 12-week internship experience that gives people in mental health recovery an opportunity to use and develop their lived experience into a professional supportive role in mental health services. An application for the first training in 2022 is now available with a due date of December 21, 2021.

Orientation Day is January 3rd. Training runs Monday to Friday, 10 am to 2 pm, until January 28th with a small job fair specifically for Peers who graduate from our Peer Training program.

We are currently running our Academy every other month, November 1st started our most recent session. The basis of the Academy program to do a three key things:

  • Professional Development
  • Work Readiness
  • Individual Wellness

The ultimate goal is to get more Peers OMH certified and employed in our communities in those Peer Provider roles.

Submitted by Liz Turek, NYCPS
Education Specialist, MHA Rochester
https://www.mharochester.org/services/peer-navigation/

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” –Brené Brown

JUMP IN,  BECOME A PEER SPECIALIST

by Howard Diamond

(October 23, 2021)

man jumping into water from pier
Photo by Dmitriy Ganin on Pexels.com

Okay. Ready, Set, Go! Let’s cool off and jump in the pool. Of course, in many parts of the country it is too cold, but there are indoor pools. Does everyone know how to swim? If not, it is time to learn. Maybe we remember the strokes that are necessary and we will just practice what we have been taught. Others do not care to pick up the knowledge or are somewhat afraid. Anyway is fine, but it might  be a good skill to acquire. Perhaps, we will get wet and feel the water splashing on our bodies cooling off from life’s stressful situations. Listen, I still hear music playing, many people laughing and can smell food cooking in the distance from the local restaurants. Spending each day as it comes and it is wonderful.

Most of us enjoyed the recent holiday weekend, without a care in the world. Suddenly, without advanced warning reality begins to set in. Bright skies turn gray, then black and within a second everything stops. No more music, no more smells and especially no one in the outdoor pools. In the distance, I see up ahead something familiar. It is definitely not the signpost from “The Twilight Zone”.  As I awaken, I realize this was all a dream. But what does any of this have to do with being a Peer Specialist? Please read on.

Here my day begins. Time to jump into my situation. It is eight o’clock am and I hear the TV that I left on again and they are still talking about COVID19 and the current stats of vaccination successes and other related information. Although, I am not currently employed as a Certified Peer Specialist, I assist myself and others exploring my skills. Using my tablet, there are many days I attempt to connect with people from other countries with their unique English pronunciations and spelling. Of course, I respect their different cultures. Like most individuals, they are dealing with their issues and current situation the best way they can. My role is to do some “active listening” and use different techniques to assist them.

One person I connected with stated that he is drinking too much, so I tried my hand doing Harm Reduction. On another occasion I employed different types of relaxation techniques to a man who barely leaves his home because of the stress of both COVID19 and his many anxieties. Other people are my local residents so it’s time to schedule an appointment to work on their budgets or other options to assist them to stretch their finances each day . Each individual needs to be heard and Peer Specialists, like myself are there for support.

For many years, I believed it was my obligation to help all sorts of people where and when I can. Since 1994 and probably earlier, I have been assisting individuals with mental and or physical health issues as my livelihood. In 2017, I became a Certified Peer Specialist, where I feel it is my responsibility to  help others. Now that I am not working, most times, no payments are given for my services. What I get is a rush of satisfaction throughout my body which serves as an internal reward and drives my work forward. Other Peer Specialists can think of many various volunteer opportunities to find a way to give back. So jump in and try something. Also, this may possibly be a springboard to paid employment and even a career. Like jumping off a diving board. Only kidding, everyone. Let me get back to being serious. One paragraph left.

Furthermore, I write these articles to promote what PEER SPECIALISTS CAN ACCOMPLISH! Yes, in fact, PEER SPECIALISTS DO ACCOMPLISH!!!

We are continually growing in numbers and in many more avenues of life. Let’s do our part, too. One Peer Specialist at a time. Over there, do we see that guy? He is jumping in the pool. Do we surmise that his profession is possibly a Certified Peer Specialist or wants to be one? Mmm, probably not. Maybe some people out there want to be one. Jump in and enjoy everyone

See you in the NewsBlogs.

Howard Diamond is a New York State Certified Peer Specialist from Long Island.

Timothy Brown

(October 26, 2021 – Courtesy Adam Black)

Timothy Brown, poet

Timothy Brown, a Westchester County-based poet and peer, has recently published two books of poetry, Poetic Madman and Twisted Rage. More information can be found on Tim’s website, timothyspoetry.com. Tim’s website has poems and other writings of his, recorded readings of his work, a link to get in contact via email (which Tim eagerly welcomes), and more. 

Tim is a poet since childhood; his work deals with a variety of themes with a focus in particular on mental health challenges and resilience. When Tim found himself confined at home by COVID beginning in March 2020 he decided to use this time to pursue his long-held ambition of publishing a book of his work–so far he has completed two!  Please take the opportunity to learn more about Timothy Brown and his work on his website, and any purchases you make will support this talented local artist.

I write about my experiences in the mental health system. I write about everything, good and bad. I don’t sugarcoat what I have to say. I have had people come to me and thank me for putting what they would like to say–but cannot–into words. My goal is to reach my peers, my practitioners, families and those who are interested in getting to know us and understand us. I believe I can be a voice for many people.

   – Timothy Brown

How We Celebrated Global Peer Support Celebration Day!

(October 22, 2021)

7th Annual Global Peer Support Celebration Day!
October 21, 2021

Yesterday (October 21) was the 7th Annual Global Peer Support Celebration Day. I was at the National Peer Specialist Conference in Atlanta on the day a Dan O’Brien -Mazza, (then) Director of Peer Services in the VA proposed a celebration day to Steve Harrington, (then) Executive Director of the International Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS), which has since been renamed as the National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.).

The main intent of this day of celebration is to recognize he contributions of peer supporters and to help to raise awareness of the work we do.

Yesterday was the first day of this year’s two-day Virtual National Conference, hosted by N.A.P.S., with a number outstanding presenters (view here) and a special award ceremony that featured Harvey Rosenthal paying tribute to our movement’s two recently lost advocates Darby Penney and Jacki McKinney.

Traditionally, groups come together at noon to take a photograph of how they’re celebrating. The Academy of Peer Services is in the midst of recording a training series on Telehealth Peer Support led by Shannon Higbee and Rusty Foster. At noon, participants were given the option of coming on camera to share in the celebration.

APS class

Later in the evening, the APS Virtual Community held an Open Mic night for peers to come together to celebrate the day. DJ What kicked off the evening, which was filled with songs, poems, artwork, dancing, and a lot of laughs. To view selected creative expressions from the evening, click here.