by Hannah Barker, Region 6 Youth Recovery Specialist, West Virginia
Living in West Virginia with mental health and traumatic stress challenges is not without difficulty. Those challenges, coupled with the stigma of diagnosis and rural topography increase the sense of isolation. While therapy services are offered and beneficial, many youth such as myself may battle coping with the day-to-day challenges associated with mental health or substance abuse. Furthermore, while I have various supporters in my life contributing to my wellness, some of my peers do not. Speaking from experience, a youth who does not have contact with regular supports can be more likely to experience a crisis situation.
That crisis situation occurred in my life. I am a suicide attempt survivor. I have also admitted myself into the hospital due to severe thoughts of suicide in an effort to get help. As a young adult, admitting myself into that hospital was one of the most uncomfortable and terrifying actions I had ever taken. That experience in the hospital increased my isolation and perhaps worsened my condition. I felt alone because I believed I was the only youth going through these challenges. During this time, the service of youth peer support was not provided in my area. Therefore, there was not a youth peer support specialist that arrived at the hospital to sit with me when I awoke after my attempt and there was no support to check in with me during my stay at the hospital, only a nurse who requested that I just get out of bed. I often wonder, if I knew that I was not alone, if I had that support I could call on, if I would have attempted at all that day and if my experience in the hospital would have been improved.
This is why youth peer support is most necessary, and, while I am happy to see West Virginia taking steps to incorporate this service, I am currently the only individual serving in this position working with youth as young as twelve. As the Regional Youth Recovery Specialist at a comprehensive mental health agency, I have provided the service that I know I needed and still could benefit from today.
I currently visit with my peers once a week or more, and often call or text them as necessary to check in or follow-up on our sessions. My peers and I work together to strengthen their wellness by inspiring confidence, setting goals, and ultimately increasing personal fulfillment. It is also a team effort among my peers, their therapist, and myself to aid in their wellness and recovery. Furthermore, our peer support sessions are not confined to my office. I have made various trips to the hospital to support peers during their most difficult times. Support through small actions can make such a difference to a person, especially youth.
Therefore, I will continue initiatives to spread the service of youth peer support in West Virginia. I cannot be the only individual providing this service. There are so many youth in this state like myself that could benefit from youth peer support and what is troublesome to me the most is that I must place my peers on a waiting list due to this single position.
Youth peer supports should be present in and collaborating with the community, mental health agencies, hospitals, and homeless shelters. Youth peer support provides the outlet for peers to uncover strengths, rather than focus on deficits. It allows us to discover ourselves and improve our skills for wellness. Finally, youth peer support empowers us to own our challenges, not succumb to them. It is time to keep moving forward in West Virginia, it is time to bring this much-needed service to us as the youth in the mountain state.
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