IMAGINING INCLUSION EXPERIENCES
Posted: October 4, 2018
I’ve been a Peer Researcher with Imagining Inclusion since March, 2017. I learned about this research project through the Spotlight on Mental Health email list. One of the goals of the research project is to provide more paid opportunities for Peers. I have a background in Peer Support and know through first-hand experience that there are limited opportunities to advance professionally as a Peer. It’s important to advocate for more paid Peer positions in the community.
Tracy and her adorable furry companion, Beni (Benita)
I’m very proud of the delivery of the Peer Researcher training that ran from May to July in 2017. Many of the participants had experience working as Peers in other capacities and were able to share their knowledge and expertise with the group. It was also rewarding to follow-up with them and learn that many have obtained employment or volunteer positions as a result of the training.
My own mental health journey began when my life trajectory was disrupted by mental illness while I was studying sciences at university. Once I was diagnosed, I felt incredibly ashamed of having a mental illness and my entire identity was shattered. I tried to return to my studies, but I was unable to concentrate. I had to allow time for my brain to heal, so I took a break from the stress of university. Over the next few months, my motivation and concentration didn’t improve. It was very important to me that I complete university, and I began to lose hope that I would ever be able to lead a fulfilling life.
My mental health team worked diligently to help me come to terms with my illness and held out hope for me until I was ready to take it on myself. They encouraged me to seek out Peer support groups, which turned out to be one of the best things I did for my recovery. The relationships I developed with individuals in these support groups helped me to deconstruct my stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness. It’s important for people to know that there are many resources and supports out there for individuals struggling with their mental health.
My experience of recovering alongside individuals who have had similar experience to mine has empowered me to help others who are struggling with their mental health. I understand that what works for me will not work for everyone and that the trial-and-error nature typical of the recovery process can be frustrating. It can take a long time – months or even years — to find appropriate and effective treatment for mental health concerns.
I returned to school, taking just one course at a time. One of the courses I took was an introduction to social work. My experience as a Peer exposed me to concepts such as anti-oppression and leveling power dynamics. These values are strong in social work, and the transition into social work was a natural fit for me. I’m currently in the last few months of completing a Bachelor of Social Work degree at UBC and will be graduating in May of 2019!
People need to know that there is a long history of stigma around mental illnesses that persists to this day. With few exceptions, the media only covers the atrocities committed by individuals with mental illness, rather than their successes. This deep-rooted bias can paint a bleak picture of mental illness, leading individuals diagnosed with a mental illness to feel stigmatized and ashamed in the same way that I did.
My advice to those who choose to hire a Peer is to treat them like you would any other employee. Some Peers may not have a formal educational background, so they may feel intimidated by other members on the team. Also, avoid “tokenism”– be warm, inclusionary and actively invite Peer participation. Be sure to acknowledge that a Peer’s lived experience of mental illness provides a unique perspective that is unparalleled by other members of the team.
As for me, in the future, I will be furthering my education and career in the area of mental health and addictions. Along the way I will continue to advocate for more paid opportunities for Peers.