CMHA Calgary’s School of Peer Support is a training and mentorship program for those with lived experience (or experience supporting a loved one) with a mental health concern or substance use concern.
Through in-class training and practical experience, students develop the skills and knowledge that are necessary to support others in their own mental health journeys through groups or as ambassadors and educations in one-to-one settings.
For Mo, CMHA Calgary’s School of Peer Support was an unexpected opportunity that came from the kindness of a Peer Support worker in our Welcome Centre.
“I went to the Welcome Centre, and there was a Peer Support worker sitting on the couch, and they [said] ‘Hey, I’m so-and-so, how are you doing?’ And we just kind of started talking.”
After realizing there was an occupational way to further connect with people that have gone through or are currently experiencing the impacts of mental illness and substance use, Mo believed sharing their story could positively impact those in need of connection.
“I found comfort and strength being near others that had gone through similar things or who were actively experiencing it. I applied for Peer School because I knew that with my years of living with my mental illness and substance use, I could use my experiences and pools of pain, resilience and hope to support others on their own journeys.”
Listening to the questions, stories and opinions of other students, Mo found themselves captivated by each of their journeys and what brought them to be a part of Peer School.
“These moments with my peers impacted me in a meaningful way that I carry with me now, in memory and in hope.”
In their learning, Mo focused on the idea that a part of recovery is about transforming services and systems. Through personal reflection and exercises, Mo was able to dissect how their privilege, trauma, and experience make up who they are, and how they navigate life.
“I have lived experience with mental illness and substance use. I am queer and I am trans. These are just a few things that make up my perspective and the lens I see through.”
One of my peers shared, ‘I’m beautifully human.’ Whenever I’m feeling hard on myself, or make a mistake, I think about it, and when I think about that, I think about the peer who said it, I think about peer school, and I feel hopeful and excited.Mo | Peer School Student
With the support of those around, Mo felt comfortable interacting with similar and like-minded individuals, with the different paths of life that brought them to the School of Peer Support.
“There were fellow students who like myself wanted to get into the field, others were already working as Peer Support Workers, some were in University or changing careers-and every single person I interacted with has their own story and is on their own journey. I’m very grateful to have learned from and alongside each of them […] Just like Peer Support is for anyone, I think everyone could benefit from this experience.”
“Mental health is part of my whole health”
The interconnectivity of wellness is something Mo has learned to consolidate when other areas have been neglected, with mental wellness being a huge area to focus on and nurture.
“My mental health includes how I make the choices I make, my outlook on my internal and external world, and my threshold for stress—good and bad. Mental health is one of the many moving parts of overall health, it plays off of and impacts other aspects.
When it comes to self-care, Mo finds their calmness practicing mindfulness and intentionally being in the moment when they are in nature, or their home creating art.
“Whether I’m out on a walk with my dog, drawing, or on the bus, I focus on how the air feels, the dancing of shadows, the layers of sound from different places […] Life is constantly shifting and changing and sometimes [things are] hard and that’s just how it goes. I dance when a song creeps into my bones, I say hello when I walk by people, I make corny jokes and express my joy when I experience it.”
Graduating from the School of Peer Support this year, Mo is going to take their newfound knowledge and passion for human connection to other people, just like them, that need that connection—even when they least expect it.
“Every individual—their journey is so different. And there are so many different components that make up that person. [I want to] show people empathy in different ways and help.”
Our Peer Support program services can be accessed over the phone at 403-297-1402 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have teamed up with other Calgary agencies to help Calgarians quickly and easily access various counselling and social supports. Visit www.communityconnectyyc.ca, where you can book online for our Suicide Bereavement and Family Support Counselling, and other supports. If you prefer to still book through us, please phone (403-297-1708), or email (email@example.com).