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Mental Health Awareness Month

Today is May 1st, the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. It was started in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA). MHA was founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers in 1909. Beers spent three years in three different mental institutions and then wrote a book. He said, “A pen rather than a lance has been my weapon of offense and defense; with its point I should prick the civic conscience and bring into a neglected field men and women who should act as champions for those afflicted thousands least able to fight for themselves.” Beers was a peer. So, what is a peer?


A peer has lived experience, either personal or familial, with mental health challenges or substance use disorders and has been successful in their recovery. SAHMSA recognized the value of peers and created core competencies for peer support workers: “Peer support workers are people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations. Through shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, peer support workers help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse. Peer support services can effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking a successful, sustained recovery process.”


I am a peer. I have been a peer for a long time, but I didn’t know what it meant until a few years ago. I was careful about who I shared my experiences because I didn’t want people to see me differently, but I also wanted to help someone going through similar situations. I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have other illnesses, like Fibromyalgia and migraines. But mental disorders seem to be the ones people get stuck on. Sometimes being open about my mental illness was good because others would open up and share their stories. Other times, people would comment to someone else that my mental illness would make me unstable.


I have gone through different types of treatment, some with more success than others. In the worst moments, getting out of bed has been difficult, let alone managing a household and going to work. I have learned to read my mind and body’s cues when I am doing well, when I need extra support, and when it’s time for inpatient treatment. I have learned that I am not alone. Working with peers has brought me to where I am today.


My co-founder, Tanya, and I wanted to help others struggling as we did. We decided to start a nonprofit to help others like us, and it’s taken some time and hard work, but here we are. Communities Voices is real. We have a Fiscal Sponsor to help us while we continue to build on to our foundation. We have big dreams and will need time, funds, and staff to make them a reality.


We are doing our best with what we have while acknowledging that we can always do better. Our first project is providing peer counseling through chat, phone, and Zoom. Thanks to CM, we now have a conversational platform that allows you to reach us through more social media channels – online chat through our website, SMS, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Whatsapp. We plan to run support groups, skills-building groups, peer-to-teen programs, peer-to-peer programs, community and social services navigation, and much more. We will work on new programs as funds come in, and we can hire staff to provide more services. #Iamapeer, #whatsyourstory, #peerlife


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