Building a Support Network for Peer Workers in NYC

Sascha Altman DuBrul

Originally Posted on Mad in America

You should know that there are Peer Workers actively organizing in New York City. We had a six hour visioning meeting this weekend in Harlem with 30+ people and there’s a really fired up group of folks who are building a mentorship/support network. This is really significant because, frankly, the mental health system is failing Peer Workers on so many fronts, and it’s long overdue that we start organizing support for ourselves. Peer work started from a social movement on the streets and has ended up a marginalized and co-opted role in a broken system. There is an incredible amount of talent, experience and creativity in our ranks, and the public mental health system desperately needs us to speak up and get organized so we can hold it accountable and make it work better. Peer Workers have the power of story tellers and we also have the particular power that comes from being social and economic underdogs: we have some really important stories to tell the world.

IDHA Workshop: Peers as Change Agents, NYC Peer Workforce Conference. July 2018

Here’s the invite that our collective sent out for the event:

Building a Mentorship Network for Peer Workers in New York City — A Day of Learning and Strategy

You’ve been invited to join us at Howie the Harp Advocacy Center for a day of learning, strategy and community building. On Saturday September 22 we will be gathering to learn from one another’s experiences providing peer support inside and outside of the public mental health system. The organizers of this event recognize that there is a desperate need for those of us working in peer roles in New York City to have a network of support that is not accountable to the City or the State.

  • We want to create a support network of people working inside and outside the mental health workforce.
  • We want to build creative community that provides mentoring opportunities and strategies for self-care and mutual support.
  • We want to figure out how such a network could get off the ground and be supported over time, which would include volunteer and funded activities
  • We want to make sure that this network can remain connected to the user/survivor advocacy movement that exists independently from the agencies that hire us.

There’s a lot to say about what happened at the meeting yesterday, but I’m actually just writing this post as a National call to people who realize how significant what we’re doing is and want to stay in touch. There are a lot of Peer Specialists in New York City who are tired of being treated like second class workers because we’re out about our diagnoses and trauma histories. What often gets ignored is that we, as Peer Workers, have the power to do all these things clinicians aren’t allowed to do, but we need to fight for our right to practice genuine peer support in our work places. The system need to adapt to us instead of trying to make us into mini-clinicians.

This situation is obviously the same around the country and should be called as it is: the State and Federal offices supposedly looking out for our interests don’t actually have the power to support innovations in our workforce, most of the trainings we receive prepare us to work as entry level, clinical staff with no hope for advancement, and, most importantly, the Managed Care Organizations that dictate what kind of work is reimbursable are out of touch with how genuine peer support could actually save money and positively transform the mental health system.

The people who should be talking to each other are obviously not talking to each other and it is time for some new and creative thinking in the mental health system. It is also clearly time that people with financial resources who want to see serious change in this system support the creative transformation of the Peer Workforce into empowered agents of relationality and innovation. We could actually flip the script and be the leaders of the change instead of the ones being marginalized and coerced into participating in an archaic model of care.

Some of us see the 25,000+ Peer Workers in North America as a sleeping dragon waiting to be organized in the spirit of true Peer Support the way the role was initially intended. Meanwhile, we are here in New York City, figuring out together how to develop support networks inside and outside of the system, joining with other grassroots social movements, and preparing for the future, which is clearly going to need us to step up our game.




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