Twenty years have passed since the Peer Support Program at the Canadian Mental Health Association was established.
It is believed that people who have lived with a mental illness are the best ones to help others cope with their mental illnesses. Three men were responsible for developing the program: Cliff Cross, Ron Nichol and William Cundy. Along with a steering committee, they secured the funding from the Interior Health Authority, and established the structure of the service.
In September 1997, the first volunteers were trained and the service began. The program was designed to benefit both the volunteers and the peers they helped. Volunteers gained a purpose and learned new skills, while the people they serve gained a social contact that would introduce them to services, and get them out of their homes where they tend to isolate from society.
Over the 20 years, the program has helped more than 500 people. From advocacy to emotional support, the volunteers help their peers learn new coping skills and show the understanding needed to advance their lives and recovery. There is a sense of pride when a volunteer sees their peer go from being shut up in their home to actively participating in society again. Recovery takes time, and having support means much to the ill person.
Besides advocacy, Peer Support Services consists of two basic programs. One is the hospital visitation program where volunteers visit the mental health ward three times a week. Here they visit with those on the ward, giving them information and hope. The second program is the community one-on-one program. A trained volunteer is paired with someone who tends to isolate; is new to town; or newly diagnosed. Primarily a social contact, the volunteer helps them cope with their illnesses. Individuals can even drop by the office between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to talk to the volunteers there. Our office is on the ground floor of the CMHA building next to the Georgette Shop at 3100-28th Ave.
We value the service, and plan to celebrate our 20th anniversary Sept. 22 at 7 p.m., upstairs at CMHA building, 3100-28th Ave. If you have been involved, or benefited from the program, please come join us. If you have any questions, please contact us at 250-542-6155.
Patricia Harding is peer support coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Vernon.