May is Mental Health Awareness Month. With most of the country still practicing physical distancing and the significant change to our home and work practice, many Americans are figuring out approaches to supporting their mental and physical health. In this month’s blog, Martha Barbone, Interim Director of Operations at the National Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS) offers some insights on how you can address your own mental health, as well as the important role that peer supports play in supporting each other for better health and wellbeing.
Many in our community may be feeling extra stress with all of the talk about COVID-19. Fear can erode our trust in ourselves, in the goodness of others, and the joy in living. As peer supporters, we are in a position to support others around their own fears as well as the general fear in our communities. Offering compassion and encouraging people to discuss their fears is a great practice. We provide accurate information and help others find accurate information. Here are some tips for peer supporters and those they support:
- Put fear into perspective – It is important for us to become knowledgeable consumers of information. Staying informed and choosing reliable resources, such as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Media breaks –Catch up on the news at a time of day you feel most rested, relaxed, and supported.
- Interrupt fear and anxiety –Doing usual tasks such as washing dishes, exercising, or talking with friends reminds us that we can be fearful but still make meaningful choices.
- Use all of our senses –Breathing exercises, mindfulness routines, coloring, cooking, and practicing other ways of being in the “here and now” with the help of our senses is helpful.
- Find your joy – identifying things in your life that reconnect you with joy or joyous memories, giving you a chance to laugh or smile; turning to joy does not mean ignoring suffering in the world or even your own life experiences. Finding your joy means reminding ourselves of connections to people, places, and experiences that have shaped who we are. It is one important way of reconnecting with meaning on our journey.
In 2004, A small group of peer specialists had the idea that sharing real world approaches and resources between the states would create positive outcomes and a more inclusive and safe space for individuals who have traditionally been marginalized in accessing health care. The National Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS) now includes members from every state and several countries outside the US who come together to share their ideas and innovations, exchange resources and information based on real world application, and add their voice to others when concerns and issues affecting all of us require a global response from a global community.
iNAPS has reorganized and rebranded as a national professional association of peer support specialists. We will continue conversations with peer support workers in other countries to explore the establishment of an international coalition and continue to welcome individuals from across the world as both members and volunteers. We have a new logo and are now officially the International Association of Peer Supporters, Inc. doing business as the National Association of Peer Supporters, Inc.
iNAPS considers workforce development one of its primary missions. Last year we released the National Practice Guidelines for Peer Specialists and Supervisors. One of our current efforts is gaining unique recognition of our profession by the Department of Labor and development of a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) for Peer Support Specialists. (The SOC is an important tool used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data.) Through this tool, we identify ourselves as part of the effort to advocate for higher wages, training, and new position development. Currently, Peer Support Specialists are now classified with Community Health Workers, which does not recognize our unique role based on our own lived experience with emotional distress, trauma, and/or substance use.
Peer Support is being provided in many different ways in different states, in different settings, and at different organizational levels for different populations. iNAPS does not promote any individual group or organization, rather they focus on helping people find the resources they need to maintain their wellness. They offer links to additional peer support organizations in the hope that it helps people to stay socially connected while physically distancing. Some of the resources are below and you may see the full list here.
- Warmlines – warmline.org
A warmline is a peer-run listening line staffed by people in recovery themselves. Visit this site to see a directory of known warmlines around the US.
- Peer Support Solutions – peersupportsolutions.com
Peer Support Solutions is the leader in using innovative mobile and online technology to make digital peer support more convenient, accessible, personalized, measurable and rewarding. While in-person peer support is a viable option, we believe that digital peer support is a preferred option for many people that want to avoid public stigma, have challenges getting to fixed meeting sites, and prefer to join conversations from the comfort of their own home.
- Recovery International – https://recoveryinternational.org/
Recovery International is a peer-led support meeting network that uses cognitive-behavioral tools to help people lead more peaceful and productive lives. Sign up for “Daily Spots” e-mails or contact: Lisa@recoveryinternational.org.
For more information on iNAPS as well as resources on finding peer supports, please visit their website at www.inaops.org.
Martha Barbone is the Interim Director of Operations at the National Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS). Her passion is sharing hope with others and working to reduce the trauma associated with inpatient psychiatric treatment.