With the proper supports and connections, individuals facing mental health or substance use concerns are capable of living a full and healthy life. For the past 60 years, CMHA Calgary has worked to break down barriers and create programming to promote exactly that and for those affected by a mental health or substance use concern.
“We have always been the cheerleader for Calgarians when it comes to their mental health,” explains CMHA Calgary’s Executive Director, Laureen MacNeil.
Laureen explains that CMHA Calgary unofficially adopted the practice of peer support 20 years ago, but it was during the 2013 flood that the organization truly began to embrace the concept of peer support – a source of connection and healing.
“We were able to receive some funding that allowed us to expand and train more peer supporters, and they did a tremendous amount of work post-flood, going in and working with people that had felt isolated after the flood and really walk side-by-side with them and bring them back into community,” says Laureen.
Now, the peer support movement is the focus of CMHA Calgary with the launch of the newly opened Welcome Centre and Recovery College – a place where people from all walks of life can come and connect with others while learning how to become the best versions of themselves.
Studies have shown that peer support works because it provides a genuine connection based on mutuality and respect.
Each peer support worker has their own lived experience with a mental health or substance use concern and has a wealth of knowledge and tools to share with others. CMHA Peer Support workers have gone through 70 hours of training, along with a 50 hour paid internship, through either CMHA or a partner agency.
“I have heard it said that peer support is the hug that people are looking for, but are so afraid to ask for. That ability to sit down and maybe share something that you have not been able to share with anyone else usually allows people to start to process of doing their own work [towards recovery],” said Laureen.
She explains that in our fast-paced culture, we often times forget the importance of connection and genuine friendship.
“We are social animals, yet society has taken away the art of conversation and the art of friendship,” Laureen explains. “If you can think about sitting down with your least judgmental friend and telling them about something deep inside you that you know you can’t hold on to any longer, and that person is able to sit there and just be that cheerleader for you – that’s peer support.”
Unlike many other forms of mental health supports, peer supporters will never tell someone what they should do. Instead, they walk beside that individual and empower them as they continue on their own mental health journey
Although everyone can benefit from peer support, Laureen explains that the formal mental health system has taken a great interest in the idea.
“Mental health service providers really appreciate someone who can take that person out for coffee and really get to know them because they know that contribute to the wellness and their own recovery journey,” she explains.
This connection is especially important when an individual is transitioning out of professional mental health care.
“Anyone I have talked to in the formal healthcare system is looking for that ability to provide a warm hand-off to somebody that has walked in that person’s shoes. The formal system provides lots of supports, but we know that things get tricky in the transition points,” Laureen says.
The CMHA Calgary team has worked tirelessly to create a space that can cater to everyone no matter their journey. Whether someone is looking for one-on-one peer support, to learn new skills through a Recovery College course, or just seeking genuine connection with others, CMHA Calgary’s doors are open to everyone.
All Recovery College programs at CMHA Calgary are free of charge and without waiting lists. In order to continue to ensure that no one is turned away, your support is critical, which is we’ve recently launched the Turni2We campaign.
Your donation can go a long way in helping someone feel like they belong, and that they matter. Donate today.
For those looking to connect with a peer support worker, you can come by in person, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403-297-1402 during the Welcome Centre’s opening hours (9:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday to Friday, and Tuesday and Wednesday from 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm excluding holidays).