From the Doctors

Strategies Against Stigma



This is blog 5 of a series of 10 on this topic.  Peer support and a wellness approach to mental illness have brought great changes in people’s lives.   They foster a renewed sense of choice, hope and empowerment, that assist in regaining well-being.   We’ve had a lot of talk in our community over the years about stigma and overcoming it.   We’ve made strides. We’ve fallen back. We have tragedies that occur that maybe set us back even further and then we claw back again.  What are some of the strategies the peers at Recovery Innovations have used to handle stigma? We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others.

R states, “I’m a person, I’m not a diagnosis. I don’t accept labels from others, saying ‘You’re this.’ No. I’m me and that’s how I deal with a lot of the stigma.”

The family can be the hardest sell. M confesses, “My family dropped me, denied that anything was wrong with me when I got sick and didn’t have anything to do with me.”

K shares, “They didn’t understand depression in the sense that everybody gets depressed but they didn’t understand the biological factors that played into my depression at the time. Labels – I moved them out of my words because I don’t think it’s fair at this point, because I am a person, I am a human being. I’m K.”

Is it difficult to get people to accept the way a person can change? Over time, do they fall in line or do you have to do more personal education, ask for their support? What kind of things can a person do to help move that along?

Y shares, “I had my mom go to some of the conferences on people with mental health challenges and she learned from that and she also learned from me just by observing me and knowing when I’m well and when I’m not well. She’ll say to me now, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ I’ll think, maybe I’m not having a good day, but I’m OK. I had to educate her and my whole family. My family kinda disowned me for awhile because of the challenges I was going through.”

Do the peers feel today that they are now better champions of wellness as a result of educating family members? Do they still have to give refresher courses?

J’s sister-in-law had some mental health challenges and her brother had to learn from his experience with her and “he now understands me a lot better too, so it’s an ongoing process.   He tells me things that he reads on the Internet on new treatments and asks me about them now too, so that’s a big step for my brother to do right now!”

In our next blog, Vernon will share some stigmas he dealt with in his own family.

Family Skeletons



This is blog 4 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  One of our biggest family secrets is a family member who’s had a psychiatric condition or mental health challenge that was either pushed under the rug or just ignored. We had relatives, “country folk,” who would describe a relative as “he was just touched.” People would be allowed to go untreated and would not get services.   They wouldn’t get help and they would languish. People would talk about it as being a spiritual affliction, that it’s something going on spiritually.   They’ve been a bad person and that’s why they are being punished in this way by having psychiatric or mental health challenges.   People can feel they are being ostracized or being punished by people with that belief system.

We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others.

Y confesses, “My parents knew something was going on with me but I really didn’t know because at times I would self-medicate. At one time, I was mandated by the courts to get mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. At that time, I really didn’t want to but then I think that was the best thing that could have happened to me to reach those support groups and get the support and educate myself on my diagnosis. It helped me find Recovery Innovations of Arizona to become a peer support specialist. At one time, I didn’t think I would be able to get a job because of what I was going through and being on a fixed income, but now, I’m on my journey to recovery and I know I can get off Social Security. I know I can get a job, a better job, with the company I’m with now and better myself.”

M admits that her family didn’t accept mental illness in the family and they never talked about it. Years ago, she was told she had to have shock treatments and her brothers finally realized “Oh, maybe she really is sick.” M adds, “It’s been a continuing thing trying to have them understand what’s going on and how I’ve made my recovery by not putting a label on myself and I’m an important person and I’m going to accomplish something one day.” Being there for the peers, the WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, put “me into a state of knowing, learning and continuing to learn all about everybody, especially myself.”

We’ll discuss the WRAP program more in the next blog.

Peers Tell Their Stories



We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of counselors J, K, M, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as peers or coaches helping others.  This is blog 3 of a series of 10 on this topic.  Here are some of their stories!

R says, “My first peer that I ever spoke with, I saw her a year later. She said that she got hope. Through recovery she got her family back home, she has her own home, and she says that she never would have been able to do it if it weren’t for other people who have experienced mental illness and were willing to share with these people and just be with them and let them know we’re there.”

Y relates, “It helped me with my recovery.   It keeps me grounded. If I’m going through some challenges, I’ll still get up and go to work in the morning.   It takes my mind off of me and I’m helping somebody else, my peers. It’ll take my problem off me for eight hours. Sometimes when I get home, I’m not even experiencing any more challenges because my job is rewarding. It’s therapeutic for me. I love my job.”

It’s very unusual for people to talk about how therapeutic their job is for them except when they come home they want to go to happy hour. Y can share with people some of the challenges she had to overcome. This reminds her of where she came from, and gives people hope. That certainly makes a job real important! “In this work, you open your heart to other people. This is not just about a therapy deal. This is about opening your heart to someone else and ‘meeting them where they’re at.’ It’s been invaluable both with inpatients and outpatients, to have something like that they can grab a hold of, a safety rope.”

M adds, “I share my story with them because once I share my story, you can see a wall come down because then they feel that they have something in common with me. I can get them to talk and be more relaxed when talking with me.” As providers, we appreciate this and recognize our limitations! We have a strong community we refer people to and we work with hand in hand to assist them to be successful.

In the next blog, we’ll summarize some of the forward strides being made in the mental health community

Power in the Group




We have had chats with J, K, R, M and Y, peers at Recovery Innovations.  This is blog 2 of a series of 10 blogs on this topic.  When recovery culture happens, is it through groups, people meeting together, learning how to do things? How does it work?

They do one on one support, supporting their peers. R shares, “We embrace all cultures, because there are a lot of different ones to embrace!” Embracing a person’s culture allows him or her to feel included, not feel set aside or put off by the fact that they are there to develop a recovery for their mental health challenges. Recovery is possible for everybody, not just one culture or gender. We all have our own unique ways and bring different things to the team.

R adds, “When I come in to work each day, I come in unjudgmental to my job and treat everyone like they’re really something special, because they are. They’ve helped me in my recovery and it’s a journey to me. It’s not just recovery, it’s a journey and you can have high points and low points but you always finish out on top if you just keep that hope for yourself and others!”

It’s obvious that there’s a lot of power in the whole group, that hope together with everybody supporting each other in that process.  Y says, “They understand what we are trying to relate to them and also relating to them, that we’ve been through what they’re going through.”

R described how she felt alone in her crises and in her mental health challenges.   “But, in the recovery environment, you feel equal to everybody else there…without the stigma mental illness puts on a person.” She reveals “just having that camaraderie with people that meet me where I’m at and accepting who I am and not look at me and say, ‘Well, she’s got this diagnosis.’ Or ‘She’s got that problem.’ You know, I can be myself.”

The recovery peers feel that a part of the power of the program is that they are also working toward wellness. They don’t focus on illness or getting treatment. As part of that, everybody defines their own idea of what wellness is for them across those five pathways.

In the next segment, the counselors will share some of their experiences in the wellness program.


The Five Recovery Pathways to Wellness

IMG_1026We have had a number of discussions with the great set of people from Recovery Innovations International, including M, Y, J, K and R. Vernon has been a drug and alcohol specialist and was introduced to 12 Step Programs and the principles of recovery.   Wellness is a goal that we achieve and illness is something that takes away from wellness. Quite often in mental health, it is a process of one-on-one counseling, maybe group therapy, everything very confidential. There is a lot of stigma and issues related to having an illness needing treatment and needing support. Vernon had a very refreshing experience when introduced to Recovery Innovations now Recovery Innovations International. This is an awesome team of people who have helped family members and have been a great resource in our community. They understand the processes of wellness and recovery using a holistic approach. The next few blogs will review a little about their program. What makes it powerful in the collective world of mental health treatment as well as in the lives of the recovery specialists individually?

K reveals that Recovery Innovations started in 1996 as Meta Services. Their philosophy is based on the five recovery pathways. The first one is Hope. It’s a turning point, when we realize things are getting better. For her, “that was the key of my recovery, to get some hope back in my life.” The next pathway is Choice and the courage to make a choice. As K says, “It was a choice for me to recover, not somebody else making that choice but me making the choices by myself and the more we choose, the more we recover.” The third pathway is Empowerment, reclaiming the power to think for oneself, express feelings and opinions, succeed or fail, or to just have fun. In recovery culture, there is Value. Finally, Spirituality is finding new meaning and purpose in life. As K confesses, that’s what I needed to do with my life and that’s why I’m part of people that serve people with mental health challenges.”

The system and the culture of recovery allow a chance of fulfilling goals for each person and then that helps the person give back to that community.

Choice, hope and empowerment are the kinds of things that make it worthwhile to get up in the morning and go to work. In the next segment, we’ll review how some of this happens in the recovery culture.