By Katrina McIntosh, Manager for Global Peer Support at Mental Health America
As a Black Caribbean queer woman, inclusivity has become fundamental to my existence. My Caribbean upbringing has allowed me to exist on an island where our anthem echoes the words, “here every creed and race finds an equal place.”
And while in its truest forms, these words are beautiful, in reality this isn’t always the truth.
My queer body has longed for a space where I could be accepted for who I am. My bipolar experience has needed a space where I can express the complexities of being black, queer, and bipolar, and receive support and acceptance.
This is why peer support is important to me. In my first peer support experience, I cried with over 20 other peers with different identities and lived experiences, but who all honored equality and acceptance. I was able to openly express how my illness impacts my everyday experience and find support and welcoming.
Peer support embraces equally-shared power.
This is one of the fundamental principles of peer support. This means that in practice peer supporters engage with their team, members, and community in fundamental ways such as
- using language that reflects a mutual relationship,
- behaving in ways that reflect respect and mutuality,
- not expressing or exercising power over those they support, and
- not diagnosing or offering medical services but offering a complementary service.
What makes peer support different from traditional clinical or social support is that it places value on lived experience. It recognizes that the lived experiences of individuals make them experts about their own mental health journeys and in determining their own self-care. Sharing this expertise with others can be the key that unlocks a recovery journey for someone else.
Peer support is valuable, whether it is informal or formal. At Mental Health America, we offer training, support, and certifications to peers who want to use their experience and expertise to help others experiencing mental health challenges.
Visit our website at mhanational.org/cps to learn more about our NCPS certification and Peer Partners program.