"Been There, Done That": The Value of Peer Support

September 18, 2020

by Matthew Davis
Executive Administrative Assistant, Wyandot Center

The concept of peer support has been around for decades. We’ve all heard of Alcoholics Anonymous: a group of people with a common struggle, together with a list of steps to guide them in a new direction. It’s become an icon of our society’s approach to combatting alcoholism outside of a professional setting.

Fundamentally, this is peer support.

Peer support, from a mental health aspect, takes a similar approach to AA, but it also addresses some of the unique complications that people with a diagnosis face. Through education, media portrayals and overall public exposure to the issue of addiction, the public has built a better understanding of the challenges people with addiction face today. But for those with mental health diagnoses, the stigma remains a formidable barrier to recovery.

Peer support takes a “been there, done that and STILL doing that” approach to dealing with the issues of stigma, a less-than-perfect healthcare system and all the other experiences that life has dealt. By sharing a person’s lived experience, the peer support specialist builds rapport and trust on a level that is uniquely different than the relationship between one’s doctor or case manager.

By saying, “Yes, I have that diagnosis too,” or “yes, I’ve been on those same meds before,” new doors are opened in their path to recovery. The client comes to realize that someone out there “gets me”.

Dual diagnosis can be a big part of the peer support system as well. It is not uncommon for those who struggle with mental health issues to also carry the burden of addiction. This also speaks to the diversity of peer support providers. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Just like one therapist may not be a good fit for a particular patient, not all peer support specialists are a perfect match for the client to whom they’re assigned.

Wyandot Center’s current team of peer support staff include Jan Kobe, Shyanne Hoff and supervisor Sherry Folsom. Jan and Shyanne’s commitment to their cause goes beyond the hours they devote to their caseload.

Jan is a familiar face at ArtMaker’s where she has taught peer-led art classes to adult and transitional youth clients for more than 21 years.  Formerly an artist at Hallmark Cards, Jan has used her lived experience in tandem with her creative talent to build a hands-on art studio where clients are free to express their own ideas, build on self-confidence and grow at their own speed.

In Jan’s own words, “ArtMaker’s is a room of positive energy . . . a think tank for clients to relax,
de-stress and use their own imagination to come up with their own solutions.”

Shyanne recently earned a position on Mental Health America’s Young Mental Health Leaders Council. Her position on the council will give her the opportunity to be a mental health advocate through social media. She will also be presenting at local and national events with Mental Health America and Mental Health America’s partners.

Shyanne says she is looking forward to this fantastic opportunity.

“Overall, my biggest goals are to be the best advocate I can be, to be the best listener and helper I can be, and to make changes that allow people with and without mental illness to flourish and bloom with support and understanding.”