Joining the Military to Beat Depression: A vet finds her way back from suicidal depression

Joining the Military to Beat Depression: A vet finds her way back from suicidal depression, by Denise Ranaghan

Originally Posted Feb 14, 2018 on Psychology Today

On the psychiatric ward I didn’t get out of bed for weeks except to pee. The bathroom had two entrances, one from my room and one from the room of the two male veterans on the other side. It stunk of stale urine. I didn’t eat the meals served. I didn’t attend the community meetings. I didn’t respond when the psychiatrist came in and threatened to give me electric shock treatments if I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t give a hoot about the female veteran who shared the room with me and was in bed almost as much as I was. I did notice that at least she ate. I didn’t talk to Alberta, the nurse’s aide who stood by my bedside every morning and told me I would have to get up some time. Alberta was right about that.

The afternoon came when I did raise my frail and weakened body from the hospital bed and trudge down the hall.  The floors under my hospital issued foam slippers seemed very hard and cold, the lights in the hallway seemed very bright and the walls along the corridors seemed very white. Sounds of voices in the distance penetrated my eardrums as if they were coming from a loudspeaker above my head.  I reached the TV room and with my slow and delayed steps shuffled over the threshold. Some guys with cigarettes hanging off their lips were playing pool and the first few times the pool stick hit the cue ball my body jolted.  Nurses’ aides were huddled in a corner chattering about their personal lives: “You can’t let that boy get away with that sista he ain’t never gonna learn his lesson he need a daddy to whip him into shape and if he ain’t got no daddy he ain’t gonna know how to be no daddy.…” An unshaven veteran sat hunched over on a plastic folding chair, covering his ears with the palms of his hands and tapping his fingertips on the sides of his head. Every once in a while, he would stand up straight, shake his fists in the air over his head, and proudly exclaim, “Oh yes I did. You bet your ass I did!” then sit back down, cover his ears and start tapping again.

That visit to the psychiatric ward was the result my third suicide attempt in the one year…

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About the author: Denise Ranaghan is the Director of Peer Services at NYAPRS.  She is a veteran who served in the Army from 1986-1989. In 1992, while an inpatient at the NYS Psychiatric Institute, Denise returned to school through the Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Program. She earned an Ed.M. in Psychological Counseling at Teachers College, Columbia University. Later, she pursued a license in Mental Health Counseling.

Denise served as a Peer Specialist on the MHA ACT team from 2008-2012. In 2012 she took the position of Director of Wellness Services at the MHA where she served until returning to the ACT team as Team Leader in 2016. She has held multiple positions in the mental health system including Residential Counselor, Residential Manager, Employment Specialist, and Coordinator for an Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program. In 2018, Denise took the position as Director of Peer Services at NYAPRS. Denise says, “As oppressive and frustrating as organizations and institutions can be, I have benefitted from them and want to work to make them better. I have met some phenomenal, loving people who have helped me access resources along the way. I love the bumper sticker that says, ‘I don’t care what you know ‘til I know that you care.’”


Help us Connect the Dots!

One of the projects of the Academy of Peer Services (APS) is to create a Community of Practice to provide opportunities for Certified Peer Specialists and others in the peer support workforce to connect, communicate, collaborate, educate, and look for new ways to improve the experience of giving and receiving peer support services.

This month, we (researchers within the Academy of Peer Services) launched a study to investigate the sense of community in and among the different roles and areas of the peer support workforce.

We need your help to gather information to connect the dots in the peer support workforce, particularly the sense of belonging (locally, regionally, and statewide) of those in different areas of the state and roles within the workforce. Whether you are a Certified Peer Specialist, a supervisor, a co-worker on a team with peer specialists, or someone just getting started in your role, your responses can help.

Please take our survey and share your personal experience. It will take about 10 minutes. Then, if you are interested, you can also sign up after the survey is complete to join our mailing list and get more involved in the development of our Virtual Community.

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Sense of Community Survey


Look, Look Ahead

new year 2018(A belated wish for the new year from our guest blogger, Howard Diamond.)

LOOK, LOOK AHEAD.                               A poem from Howard Diamond

Look, look to the year ahead,
Will it be filled with happiness or dread?
Some are hungry and need to be fed
Or just need a warm comfortable bed.

Look, look ahead towards greatness and joy,
And seek out all that one can enjoy.
Maybe playing with that holiday toy,
Whether you are a girl or a boy.

Look, look ahead and not behind,
Behold life’s wonders that one can find.
This is not a dream in the mind,
There are nice people that are kind.

Look, look ahead when my life is not happy,
Sometimes, I really think it is totally crappy.
See for yourself, I am not always sweet and sappy,
But I try to feel like a bird with its wings flappy.

Look, look ahead and try not to despair,
Life is not perfect, but some people do care.
Take a chance or a risk, if you dare,
Even if you think that life is not fair.

Look, look ahead it is now 2018,
Before we realize it will be 2019.
For every child, every adult and every teen,
Make it the best year we have ever seen.

Howard, a New York State Certified Peer Specialist

Pause and Reflect

As we begin this new year, it may be a time to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come, both as individuals and as a movement for social change. I was updating the Academy of Peer Services – History of the Peer Movement course over the holiday break and found myself, with each pioneer of the movement, deeply grateful for and in awe of those who had the courage and the tenacity to change the mental health system to one that is far more respectful and kind than it was even a half century ago.

Patrick Hendry of Mental Health America recently produced a video on this history called, “From Asylums to Recovery.” It is well worth the less than half hour to pause and reflect on the heroes of our movement.

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From Asylums to Recovery (23:38 minute video)


The first term of 2018 opens on January 8, and I encourage you to take a look at some of the updates. There are many more resources about our history available now than ever. As we move forward, let us not forget to look back with gratitude for those who brought us where we are today.

We wish you a happy new year and look forward to your participation in the Academy of Peer Services and the Virtual Community.

~ Rita / Community Coordinator

How to talk about Mental Health

(Ed) This is an excerpt from a recent TEDx Talk by Dan Berstein
A link to the TEDx Talk is included at the end.

How to talk about mental health without offending everyone. Dan Berstein (2017)

When we ask questions instead of making assumptions, then we make room for the other story. Now making room for the other story also means that we have to replace our paternalism with respect for people’s choices, whether you are a mental health professional or a person living with a mental health condition or a supporter, or all of the above.

We all have our own answers when it comes to mental health and too often we spend our time telling people our answers instead of trying to learn from theirs.  We tell people what we believe is the right treatment or the right resource because we’re trying to help, but we forget that even the experts debate everything from diagnosis to treatment. There are no perfect answers in mental health that work for everybody and without those universal answers what we’re left with are personal choices.

We have to learn to embrace the fact that there are all these choices, and respect the choices that people make. That means we have to say things like, “I know this is your choice. Can you help me understand what’s important to you when you’re making that choice?” or, “You’re making a different choice than I would. Can you help me understand why this is the right choice for you?”

When we frame our conversations as discussions about people’s personal choices, then we empower people. We make room for their story.

In making room for the other story we have to face the stigma head-on. We have to acknowledge that some people do have negative attitudes about mental health and this makes it hard for us to have conversations about it.

When I train managers to talk to employees about mental health, we can’t pretend that it is an easy or simple thing for those employees to go to their human resources department and tell them that they have a mental health need, or to use their Employee Assistance Plan to access short-term therapy. The scary reality is that it can be hard to disclose a mental health condition and people get worried that their boss or their coworker might see them differently. We can’t afford to dismiss the stigma or ignore the fact that it exists. When we make room for the fact that there really is the stigma, and we’re making room for the stories of people working to overcome that stigma, everyone has a story when it comes to mental health.

How to talk about mental health without offending everyone. Dan Berstein (2017)

Editor Note: Dan will be holding a 5-Day Training in New York City at John Jay this August.

The Dispute Resolution in Mental Health (DRMH) Initiative
5 Day Training: August 9, 10, 14, 15, 16
John Jay College (59th and 10th)

The 5-Day Basic Mediation training will include lecture, discussion, and role play exercises that help participants learn conflict resolution skills. The program includes discussion of different alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, the nature of conflict, the values of mediation, the mediation process, mediation skills, the role of the mediator and other parties, the identification and management of power imbalances, the identification and management of diverse perspectives and possible bias, and ethical issues. This training also covers specific case examples relevant to the peer specialist community.

Click here for a flyer 

Where’s the reconnect button?

By Guest Blogger: Kathleen Surline, NY Certified Peer Specialist
Founder, Wisdom Within (

Of all the profundities that have come to light in the course of my illness, recovery, and even my subsequent choice to become a NY Certified Peer Specialist, one the most perplexing has been disconnection; or perhaps, more accurately, reconnection.

I suppose it goes without saying that most of us experience some manner of disconnection before, during and/or after our mental health diagnoses.  While we are struggling with our symptoms and no one else gets us. While we are are fearing what might really be wrong. While we are sleeping less and less. While we are swimming in that initial sea of uncertainty. We may not feel able to hold a conversation with a friend or loved one; our words don’t work. We may find we are
isolating (such a common occurrence during depressive episodes, etc.); we have a hard time reading with understanding; we feel unable to explain what we are going through, so we may say nothing at all. We don’t go out. We don’t answer the phone. We stop getting online.
Slowly, slowly, through the course of recovery work, we make certain new connections that help our footing. Maybe its a medication regimen that finally seems to help, after months of trial and error and side effect surprises. Maybe it’s a therapist or doctor that we finally feel is the right fit for us. Perhaps we took up writing again, or art, or music, or (name your therapeutic endeavour of choice here). All this helps. But many of us are still very separate from the rest of the world. Some disabled by distance or finance, some by inability to leave their homes to attend support groups, workshops, conferences.

Then, lo and behold, and by whatever manner the opportunity came, we find there is now a connection, a path if you will, in peer support, that can allow us to make lemonade from lemons.


The Offices for Mental Health and the Academy for Peer Services avail us of the possibility of becoming Certified Peer Specialists in mental health via the online
coursework they’ve so outstandingly developed! To connect with a like-minded group, even if only in spirit. To share what we’ve lived, survived, learned along the way, from our oft times lengthy dance in the darkness. To then take that forward, with shared knowledge and standardized education, in our history, in this new work, in an effort to help the next humans who find themselves at the dance; to encourage wellness, self-advocacy, and hope.  Despite perhaps some sputters and
spurts, we reconnect online to APS coursework and discussion forums, and focus on certification. The sense of accomplishment and affirmation once that certification happens, well, it’s like a rebirth of sorts. Back into the world of the functional, the valued, the accomplished!

Then, we may find, despite all best intention and enthusiasm, that peer support work itself can, at times, leave one feeling disconnected in its own right. Or at the very least, somewhat isolated.

If we are fortunate enough to gain a position in the peer support workforce, then the fellow consumer-survivors we serve may be our most frequent interactions. We are there for them (not the other way around). Its not like we have a support group for Peer Specialists. And the work is not easy; if it were, everyone would do it.

On the other hand, if we are not immediately finding positions in the peer support workforce, then we may again feel isolation and disconnect. Peer support work is evidence-based, yet old stigmas and biased perceptions still serve as roadblocks to our early success in some regions. This frustration could be enough to cause one to give in to the agony of defeat!

But, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it, “never, never, never give up.”

Now, we have APS’ new Virtual Community! What an opportunity! Might it be possible to create new connections with this as a starting point? Could this be one small step, to at least a foothold on the ladder to reconnection? Might we develop online support groups for our peer support workforce? For our new and continuing APS students? The mind boggles in wonder about ways can we look to reconnect our disconnects through this forum, and where that might … connect us to the future.

By Guest Blogger: Kathleen Surline. NY Certified Peer Specialist
Founder, Wisdom Within (

Sustaining and Enhancing Peer Support

A new video from Ontario, Canada features Peer Workers providing integrated Mental Health and Addiction services in a Local Health Integration Network (LHIN). In order to ensure these positions are sustained in the health care system the peer workers, peer supervisors, and the health care leaders are all engaged in ongoing communication and training.

This is one of the best videos on peer support I’ve seen yet.  At one point I had to stop the video to write down a particularly inspirational quote: “It’s not about implementing a program into the system, it’s about fostering a philosophy. It’s about taking the values of peer support of hope, and being person centered, integrity, authenticity, and life-long learning and growth — and living and breathing that. Not only in our one-to-one interactions, but in our interactions with our fellow co-workers, supervisors, executive directors and CEOs. This is the way we communicate with each other to really create a system that genuinely cares for individuals. It’s all of our system.”

I hope you’ll enjoy it and share it with others.



Click to view the video

Support for Peer Supporters

Why is support for peer supporters important?

A brief excerpt from the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Special Edition on Peer Support (September 2016). “Peer support for the peer supporter has emerged as an important and persistent issue.” (Harrington, 2011 p. 29). Collaborative learning approaches, such as virtual communities of practice, can enhance the personal and professional development of peer support providers. Similar to the person-centered practices that enhance the recovery experience of individuals, collaborative learning enhances the experience of peer support workers as they come together to explore issues in their own work — and personal lives — and offer unique contributions to the collective learning by working together toward improving peer practices.

We look forward to your support and participation!

~Rita Cronise, VC Coordinator