The Peer-to-Peer vision
Many people come to NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Program with feelings of guilt and self-blame—they feel they’ve brought mental illness upon themselves. When we teach them about other dimensions of mental illness—genetic causes, environmental factors—they begin to deconstruct those beliefs. It can come as a revelation when people realize that it’s not them, but a mental illness, a serious condition that can be treated.
Sarah O’Brien, Director
It is a body of knowledge and a place to be with people who understand where they’re coming from, a meeting place between the materials and the students—the potential that they’ve always had and a new understanding of their experiences.
A personalized approach
Recovery is such an individual process because mental illness affects people in similar ways and also in areas that are extremely personal. The Peer-to-Peer program offers a selection of tools and techniques from which people can choose what works best for them and tap into their own resiliency.
Some of our recent students said in their evaluations, “I plan to go back to school”; “I’m going to re-enter the job market” or “I can communicate better with my family”. The diversity within our testimonials illustrates the course’s usefulness for to people with different needs.
Peer-to-Peer works on several levels simultaneously. First and foremost, we want to communicate that recovery is possible. Once people have that sense of hope they can work on improving their lives in any number of ways. One of our goals is to empower people to make better choices. When individuals are educated about different aspects about mental illness, when they learn how to work better with a provider or what to expect from a hospital environment, they can choose to make the most of their options.
We also help participants develop effective coping mechanisms. This can range from strategizing how to meet basic needs during an episode of severe depression to creating an advanced directive for mental health care, which will ensure that someone’s treatment preferences are honored when they are in crisis.
One of the most important things Peer-to-Peer offers is a safe place to bond with peers. So many people come to us feeling isolated and find that they are not alone.
Finally, we want to nurture an individual acceptance of wherever someone is in their recovery process. Recovery is not linear and it doesn’t require perfection every day.
Areas of growth
The third edition of the Peer-to-Peer curriculum, released in winter 2010, places a greater emphasis on interactive activities than previous editions. This new edition will be available in Spanish at the end of October. Our upcoming Train the Trainers meeting with new instructors from around the country will involve some bilingual teachers as well. Peer-to-Peer will also be expanding its online presence with a Facebook page and materials available on the web to reach people who don’t have a class in their community.
One of Peer-to-Peer’s major goals is within the area of research. Currently, we’re partnering with a researcher from the University of Maryland to submit a proposal for a study with the National Institute of Mental Health. Our aim is to follow a similar path as that of NAMI Family-to-Family groups, which now have peer-reviewed research supporting their effectiveness.
Learning from participants
Like any good grassroots program, Peer-to-Peer doesn’t just teach students—it learns from them. My experience has taught me that people are extremely resilient. Recently I met a teacher-in-training at a meeting in Washington state. After being homeless for many years and also incarcerated on drug-related charges, he had finally overcome many obstacles in his recovery process. He was at the training because he wanted to become a Peer-to-Peer instructor and help others who were confronting challenges similar to his own.
Watching people overcome so much hardship so they can reach out to others is one of the most incredible parts of my job. I am privileged to watch people with many challenges turn their lives around because suddenly they have tools and knowledge that they didn’t have access to before.