Meeting people wherever they are at in their journey, and supporting them on their path to a stronger future, that’s peer support.
The individuals who walk through the doors at CMHA Calgary’s Welcome Centre and Recovery College are not told what to do. They are not assessed. Instead, they are listened to and given the opportunity to learn from those who have walked a similar path. It’s about authentic connection, and building a better tomorrow together.
“[The program] gives people permission to reach past their diagnosis and look into their core and think about what they need to do to realize who they want to be,” explains Debbie, Peer Mentor at CMHA Calgary. “We are not fixing. We are sitting in the despair with these people.”
Like the rest of the team, Debbie has experienced her own mental health struggles and explains that just focusing on her diagnosis was not the answer in moving forward.
“For me on my individual journey, I would take a back seat to my challenge, thinking that I had to put all of my energy into understanding what it was,” she explains. “[At CMHA], we don’t talk about diagnosis or medication. We talk about our schemes and dreams.”
She explains that, unlike other mental health support models, CMHA’s supporters have no time limitations or checklists to follow. She describes the relationship as more of a companionship.
“I don’t think that there is a big difference between peer support and friendship,” says Debbie. “CMHA just formalizes it. Not everyone is going to be a cheerleader for our recovery journey, but peer support will be. That’s what friends do. They encourage you.”
Everyone deserves to experience connection, so CMHA has made it so that the program is accessible to anyone, even those who do not yet feel comfortable coming in person, or even leaving their home. Via phone or email, peer support workers will connect with people wherever they feel comfortable.
“[People] have a right to be connected in a way that feels good for them, that feels safe for them, Debbie explains. “We can feel very vulnerable when we go out. People don’t understand how difficult [it] is. We all think that people are judging us. We’re so hard on ourselves.”
Whether it’s over the phone or in person, peer support provides connection and a place where people can feel comfortable and safe to talk as they begin to build their support system.
Debbie explains though, that “we don’t want to create an artificial bubble.” The idea is to get people to a place where they are comfortable connecting and are able to use their skills and new-found confidence to expand their support systems beyond CMHA’s doors.
“We have to talk about connection as being a journey. About being able to take that feeling of self-worth and value, and connecting out in the community.”
To further help get people involved in their community, and to reduce barriers such as physical access, CMHA has partnered with a variety of community organizations around the city to host Recovery College classes.
“We don’t want an exclusive club. We want to bring as many people as we can in.”
Beyond direct support, Debbie also sees a place for peers to be involved in decisions making when it comes to the greater mental health system. She herself has been, as she describes, the “token peer” on many committees over the years.
“We want things to change. We want to advocate for policy changes, and we want to be able to fit into the medical system so that it is a partnership.”
Debbie and CMHA Calgary hope to continue to expand their programming and the integration of the peer support model on a larger scale, but in order for that to happen, we need support, which is why we’ve launched the Turni2We campaign.
Donate today to provide connection and the makings of a brighter future for as many individuals as possible.
For more information about the Recovery College and Welcome Centre, visit www.recoverycollegecalgary.ca, or better yet, come by, say hi, and experience for yourself, the warmth and connection they have created.