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The Importance of Peer Support To Me

Peer support is not a new phenomenon in recovery. According to the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course manual, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups and their 12-step model have been practicing peer support since the 1930s. Peer support is when an individual with similar concerns share knowledge and practical experience with each other to have a better understanding of their concerns and to mature in recovery.

As a person living with mental illness, a facilitator, and researcher, it is common for a person living with a mental health diagnosis to also have a substance abuse concern. This combination of concerns is called dual diagnosis.

Even though I do not have a substance abuse concern I feel like I can relate to people with substance abuse concerns. From my experience with mental illness I once lost close relationships, college education, and my livelihood. Similarly, people with substance abuse concerns may have lost close relationships, career, and their livelihood as a result of using drugs and/or alcohol.

Peer support is very important to my recovery. It played a critical role in my mental health recovery foundation. When I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2007, I participated in recovery support groups with peers (people who also have a mental health diagnosis) in the state hospital and in an outpatient treatment center where I received services. When I had a concern with isolation I turned to recovery support groups to overcome that challenge. I participated in recovery support groups to gain more knowledge about Schizophrenia and to build relationships.

There are a combination of habits I perform to stay well- I take my prescribed medication regularly, I participate in and also facilitate recovery support groups, and I give and get support from various sources including family, faith-based community, peers, and treatment team. For me, this approach works, however, I understand that everyone is different and other people may use another approach to obtain stability, wellness, and maturity in their recovery. I encourage treatment (whatever that may include) for a person in recovery to reach their well being.

I understand I am fortunate to have a lot of support because some of my peers do not have a diverse network of support. Therefore, I encourage peers to aim for more support through participation in support groups and building a better relationship with their treatment team (i.e. psychiatric doctor, psychologist, therapists, social worker, mentor/Certified Peer Specialists, etc.). NAMI provides FREE support groups for people living with a mental health challenge, and also for family members and caregivers.

Regardless, if an individual has a mental illness or not, we all need support! We need support in school, on the job, in our family, and among our peers. If someone is not ready to go to a support group I also encourage online support groups, which NAMI also provides or anonymous conference calls (Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America provides).

To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., NAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

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