Usually when I tell people my work is related to mental health, their faces turn somber. Often they respond with, “Wow, you must have a tough job.” But I catch them off guard when I reply, “Actually, my job is fun.” Then their somber expressions turn to shock. I tell them about all of the activities and events PEERS host that encourage people to maintain their wellness. Last week’s 10x10 Walk/Move for Health is one example. We co-sponsored this event at Lake Merritt in Oakland. The 10x10 Campaign is an initiative started by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA. People with mental health challenges live 25 years less than the general population. Often their lives are cut short by preventable health issues like obesity, smoking-related illnesses, HIV, etc. The goal is to increase the lifespans of mental health consumers by 10 years, within 10 years.
It was a busy day, but a celebratory day at the walk. Mentioning the words “celebration” and “mental health” or “mental illness” in the same sentence may seem odd. But this event was festive. Hundreds of people celebrated the importance of taking care of our bodies and our minds. We celebrated how far we’ve come in our recovery. We celebrated that we have the power to take care of each other and ourselves. All of this went on during a day of walking, Zumba, chair yoga, peaceful strolls around the labyrinth, free healthy food and free massages. Yes, we had FREE massages and my back enjoyed each of those 15 minutes. One of my favorite parts of the day was line dancing. We got to do the Wobble. The 10x10 Walk/Move for Health was like being at an educational, empowering party.
There was one person I hoped would have a great time—my mother. I could tell she was reluctant to come out on a cold and early Friday morning. But with my loving pressure through a wake up call (wink, wink) she came out to join us. And she had a blast. She enjoyed chatting with my co-workers, listening to Lift Every Voice Speak share their stories of resilience, the labyrinth and of course the massage. By the end of the day she was tired from feeling so relaxed. And she had a better understanding of why I’m so passionate about the work I do.
I’m happy PEERS and the 10x10 Campaign got our message out to even more people this year. I personally know how important physical health is to mental health. If I’m eating a lot of junk food or not exercising, I notice my mind feels foggy and heavy. And I’ve lost loved ones with mental health issues to preventable illnesses. They left far too soon because they didn’t have the resources and education for better physical health care. So I encourage you to take care of your body and mind. Take a walk around your block. If you can’t walk, do some stretches in your chair. Play outside with your kids or go dancing with your honey. I’ll throw on my Madonna "Immaculate Collection" CD in a heartbeat and dance in my living room like no one’s watching when I need a quick workout. And on occasion my mother has joined me. We have a lot of fun and it makes us feel good. Whatever you do, love your body and your mind.
See the photos from the walk here.
SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE
The PEERS staff took a fieldtrip to the movie theatre and watched “Silver Linings Playbook” starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro (I’ve since incorporated looking at Bradley Cooper into my wellness toolbox). Lawrence won an Oscar for her performance. Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher with bipolar disorder who spent eight months in a psychiatric hospital. He returns to his parents’ home and tries to get himself together so he can get back with his wife. But Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, has the hots for him.
Pat doesn’t take his medication. There’s a scene in the film where he’s given meds at the hospital and he spits them out. And throughout the movie he says he doesn’t like taking medication because it makes him foggy and bloated. I don’t take psych meds but I know people who say the drugs make them foggy and lethargic.
For half of the film he’s resistant to taking the drugs. Then after a few manic episodes, he begins taking his meds. He becomes more patient, more responsible with his behavior and life is much better.
I’m not for or against psych meds. If they work for you and help with your wellness, take them. But I also know that our culture has embraced the idea of the “magic pill” and that some of our personal problems can go away with just a pop of a pill followed by a glass of water. And in some cases a pill can’t cure us. Some things in life take self-reflection, holding yourself accountable, forgiveness or just time. I remember my therapist kept suggesting I take antidepressants when I was having a tough time. I was depressed because I was unemployed, my grandfather was dying, I had to file a lawsuit and my living environment was stressful. A pill wasn’t going to make these problems go away and make me feel better. But my therapist listening to me and reminding me of my wellness tools helped me bounce back.
Because Pat miraculously got better after taking the pill, I was unclear about how he really felt about the pills. Was he lying when he said they fogged his mind and caused bloating? Or did Hollywood writers need a magic pill for the film’s “Happily Ever After” ending with his lover? My concern is I don’t want to people to get the idea that when someone says certain psych drugs don’t make them well, that they should just push through it and take them anyway.
When it comes to Pat reaching wellness at the end of the film, I don’t know if it was because of his own will or the meds. Or maybe it was a combination of both. Still I give the Oscar to medication. Although they only showed up a few times in the film, they had a major role in the storyline. And for those with mental health challenges, they can play a major role in our lives. Whether the role is good or not so good.
If you have seen the movie I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you like the film? Did you not like it? Was it empowering or stigmatizing?
Social Inclusion means that we all matter – every person has value, and each of our contributions are important to the wellbeing of the community. Those of us in recovery from mental health or substance use, can inspire others to move beyond misperceptions and the nuances of exclusion when we speak the truth of our recovery experience. We are led by our vision of a welcoming community in which we are all equal and free to live, love, learn, lead, work, pray, and play.
The goal of the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, led by PEERS, is to create these welcoming communities throughout our county. Our work is eliminating mental health stigma and discrimination. As a consumer-run nonprofit, most campaign staff and volunteers are people who have discovered our value and gifts in spite of our mental health challenges. The authenticity of our lived experience of mental health recovery is expressed through three core modalities in our campaign to change hearts and minds toward inclusion and social justice: Empowerment, Spirituality, and Outreach & Education.
Our Empowerment events, such as Empowerment through the Arts, Mindful Movement, and Sisters Circle introduce innovative wellness practices to people who want to heal, find their voice, and give back. Focusing on personal wellness and peer relationships, we open our doors to interested community members for an array of open events that promote self-awareness, build confidence, and foster connection.
Spirituality and spiritual practices are often a key component of wellness plans. Through the Spirituality link of our campaign, we provide a safe space for consumers, family members, providers, and representatives of faith communities to dialogue and learn together how to open minds, expand hearts, and increase access to culturally responsive mental health and wellness services each month.
The Spirituality work has been a key to engaging mental health awareness in the African-American community. Though our work with the African-American Action Team and the Mental Health Friendly Churches project, we are reaching out and teaching about mental health recovery and resources to empower communities to access care and support.
Our Housing Action Team unites representatives of 11 Alameda County housing programs to collaborate with mental health advocates on projects, raise mental health awareness in housing programs, and educate consumers of their rights to affordable housing. By developing a class to promote skills and resources for shared housing, we will offer WRAP for Housing as support. Our speakers bureau Lift Every Voice and Speak regularly delivers mental health recovery presentations at housing sites to educate residents and staff.
When one of the Outreach Peer Educators from Lift Every Voice & Speak courageously shares her personal story of overcoming stigma and challenges to live a life of service and connection and giving back to their community, we connect with our audience through our shared humanity. When a person with a mental health label claims his wholeness, value, gifts and commitment to creating welcoming spaces for others, everyone who listens is inspired to let go of common misperceptions and see the person behind the label.
In the Fruitvale District, we are working with volunteers, community members, veterans and immigrants to design and build a Peace and Wellness Garden on the grounds of the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park (PHHP). The garden features a paved storytelling circle with a flagstone bench-in-the-round. It will be inscribed with hope-filled messages of healing from trauma, finding and sharing our voices, and connecting with community. We broke ground on the Peace and Wellness Garden on February 12th. We are hosting a Community Storytelling event at the PHHP site on April 20th. The opening of the Peace and Wellness Garden in May will be a festive celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and our shared commitment to creating peace and wellness for ourselves and our larger community.
Stay up to date on the many monthly activities of the campaign by visiting the calendar at www.peersnet.org/calendar. Or subscribe to our monthly updates by e-mailing your request to Christal Byrd at email@example.com.
Greetings from sunny San Diego, where I am a presenter at the Family Youth and Roundtable’s 4th Annual Conference on Stigma, Discrimination, and Disparities in Children’s Services. I will be presenting with The Center for Dignity, Recovery, and Stigma Elimination where I sub-contract as the Regional Statewide Project Coordinator for P.E.E.R.S. My job is to provide program evaluation and technical training assistance to anti-stigma programs in 41 counties in Northern California. This means research and outreaching to speakers’ bureaus and community based organizations and adding them to our statewide registry.
Essentially my goal is to connect with these programs and help strengthen their message. In the past several weeks, I have traveled to Humboldt County to visit their dynamic Seeds of Understanding Collective, a speakers’ bureau that uses digital storytelling to open a dialogue about mental health challenges. I visited Shasta County’s Brave Faces portrait gallery where photographs of mental health consumers are joined by personal narratives about lived experience.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with one of the pioneers in anti-stigma work, Stamp Out Stigma in San Mateo. (They have over 20 years under their belt!)
I also met with Ethnic Service Managers from various counties to garner feedback on our project surrounding cultural competency. Our presentation at the Stigma, Discrimination, and Disparities Conference focused on reducing stigma through telling powerful personal lived experience stories and how to evaluate programs using Dr. Patrick Corrigan’s research and tools.
In the next coming months, I plan on visiting Monterey County to visit their Success Over Stigma speakers’ bureau and I will be presenting at the MHA-SF 2013 Tools for Change Conference. This work matters so much because there is still a huge stigma about people with mental health challenges. Someone’s powerful story of recovery can have such an attitude changing impact on an audience and combat that stigma.
When I hear other people’s stories of struggle and triumph, it has actually empowered me to share my own. I’m very proud of this, because this has helped with my own self-stigma and has been a very healing process. I’ve learned so much from the speakers I’ve worked with about resiliency and tact. Most importantly, I’ve learned that there is a way to be vulnerable and powerful. Hopefully, I can continue sharing the message that recovery is real. When an organization calls and tells me that they’ve received funding because of some of the suggestions we’ve made to their program, I know we’ve been successful. My ultimate goal is to not to just highlight programs and evaluate them, but ensure they are an ongoing success in their community.
For over 10 years, PEERS has been the premier organization in Alameda County to share what WRAP is in our community and what it has done for the lives of those who use this tool. So the question now is “What is WRAP?” WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Plan, is an evidence-based system that is used worldwide by people who are dealing with both mental and physical health challenges, as well as those who want to attain the highest level of wellness in their life. In WRAP, individuals are encouraged to have a sense of hope by taking small steps of personal responsibility and developing powerful wellness tools to help themselves feel better when they are not feeling well. It is a system that is strength focused and promotes empowerment, personal responsibility, education, and self-determination.
Now that we know what WRAP is, let’s go into why WRAP is important. For the majority of our lives other people have told us what they think is best for us. Growing up we have been taught that our elders know best because they have already gained experience in life and they can teach us. So we should listen and do as they say. We learned that those with college degrees in certain professions knew more about us than we did, so we should listen to them. What we learn in WRAP is that each individual is an expert on himself or herself. As individuals only we know what we like, what triggers us, what angers us, what we are like in crisis, and what we need to do after a crisis to get back on track. Who else is going to know this much about you other than you? No one.
As human beings, we do not go through the same experiences in life. Some situations may be similar, but not the same. Aside from going through different experiences we also handle those situations as uniquely as we are. So what has PEERS done to share the word and work of WRAP in our community? PEERS offers One-Day Overviews of WRAP to over 300 participants every fiscal year. We provide ongoing WRAP groups in different locations throughout Alameda County. We offer Three-Day Mental Health Recovery and WRAP trainings, and Five-Day Facilitator Certification trainings so that others can become Certified WRAP Facilitators and spread the work of WRAP.
PEERS is passionate about WRAP and what it has done for our community, our staff, and the change it’s creating around the world. At PEERS, we hope to continue doing the work we love and share this tool with as many people as we can.
Change is a significant part of growing up. As youth, it is imperative that the community we live in includes our voice and our perspective within those changes. Alameda County has been a great example to others on what youth involvement looks like by funding our wonderful Transition Age Youth Initiative (TAYi). This initiative is a strong partnership with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, TAY System of Care, Pool Of Consumer Champions (POCC), Human Health Resource Education Center (HHREC), Family Education Resource Center (FERC) and STARS. This collaboration provides an opportunity to youth to be active participants in the community.
Every youth involved with our program self-identify as consumers, which I believe, is the most empowering part of our program. We focus on the person first by getting to know them and inviting them to one of our interactive actives such as the bi-monthly “Show us What U got Slam.” This is where youth and community members get the opportunity to share poems, stories, history, art or simply a friendly joke. In addition we have ongoing peer support groups and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) groups throughout the county that are open to all youth.
As part of our growth , we have added projects to our programs that are suggested, designed and ran by our youth. The Art of View Project (AOV) gives youth the opportunity to create different forms of expressive artwork as a wellness tool. The creative works are displayed in a gallery. The Ebony Youth Project (EYP) is a group of African American TAY whose goal is to heal from trauma through cultural preservation. EYP host focused peer-support groups, social events such as movie nights, field trips and youth panels.
In the past year we have partnered with and lead many exciting events including keynotes and youth activities at two major conferences, the national Alternatives 2012 Conference and the 2013WRAP Around the World Conference.
TAYi is always looking to involve youth. If you are a youth or young at heart come and join our journey to changing the system on step at a time.
To keep in touch with our program events please e-mail me, Letty Elenes, TAY Manager firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been following PEERS for quite sometime. I have watched on the sidelines as PEERS has grown and set the stage for peers to get empowered and shine in their lives. I have as well wished that we had something like that in my Tennessee hometown, which we do not in my opinion.
An opportunity came for me to fill in as Associate Director while there was a shift in leadership. A new executive director was coming on board. It was a great time in my life to say yes and get an inside look at PEERS and what they were about. I was on temporarily for 90 days and it was amazing being in the spirit of folks being seen and heard, advocating at a personal and agency level, inviting others in the community to show up and watching the buzz in the office as people grow, change and connect with one another.
It's a joy connecting with folks on a daily basis at PEERS. The diversity of individuals that I see daily and the lessons I am learning from others' perspectives are priceless. People from all walks of life enter the PEERS office on a daily basis. I very seldom interact with such a diversity of people on a daily basis. This place is really helping me to grow in every moment, and supporting me to remember that I have a perspective and so does everyone else. It reminds me that my personal journey is mine and how I connect with those around me is through understanding that.
I enjoy the connection with my work as well. I am here to support the staff so that we at PEERS can deliver the best possible services. When we are well as a community and support people who come in for services, we do an amazing job at connecting.
I look forward to the moments at PEERS where I will continue connecting in a diverse community without shame, blame, guilt, judgment, or criticism of myself or others.
WRAP panel participants (left to right) Sanya Yao, Willi Mutazammil, and Shoki Sasaki
Six individuals from four continents shared how WRAP has been instrumental in their lives in a panel at the second international WRAP Around the World Conference in Oakland on January 28. Whether WRAP was being used as a tool for personal recovery, professional development, or parenting, panel participants praised the difference it was making both in their own and in their communities’ lives.
Helen McCrarren, Ireland
When Helen McCrarren was originally trained in WRAP, it wasn't the real stuff. Instead, it was a watered down version that lacked the values and ethics and other key components of WRAP. It was during an advanced level facilitator training with the Copeland Center that McCrarren's life changed.
"For the first time in my life, I had the experience of being in a safe environment where I only received strength-based feedback," McCrarren said. "I kept waiting for a criticism as to what I was doing wrong but it never came. On day five, I left with an expanded sense of who I was and thinking I could change the world."
It didn't take long before McCrarren started applying the principles of WRAP to parenting. She quickly realized that her children were experts on themselves and quite capable of knowing their best interests. She also learned the importance of giving strength-based feedback and that even the well-intentioned criticisms had to go.
"I began to realize that any bad behavior from my kids was a sign that they were undergoing stress in their lives," McCrarren said. "I resolved to first get the story of what was going on rather than respond to that behavior."
Another values and ethics lesson McCrarren applied to her role as mother was around the practice of labeling.
"It's so easy to label children, especially when you have more than one," McCrarren said. "You start looking at them as the smart one, the nasty one, or the awkward one. If I start to do that, I need to step back and look at what is going on."
The concepts of self-advocacy and support have also played a prominent role in McCrarren's life. Just as McCrarren is comfortable telling her children that she is struggling and needs extra help, so too she wants her children to know that she will support them should they go through challenges.
Bianca Holgate, Australia
Just over three years ago, Bianca Holgate's dear friend was taken from her. Despite her best efforts, she could not shake the feelings of sadness associated with the loss. According to Holgate, it was WRAP that gave her back her freedom and the ability to recover.
In search of help, Holgate initially decided to visit some doctors. All were quick to prescribe medication and after the third recommendation, Holgate decided to give it a try.
Unfortunately, the effects were not as she had hoped. She became disoriented, wearing the same clothes for days and lacking an ability to care for herself. Within two weeks of taking medication, Holgate had a "full-blown psychotic episode" that involved police, seclusion, and chemical restraints.
"It was awful, everyone knew about it," said Holgate. "I was also abused in the system. I was absolutely bitten by this cause, and from then on, decided I couldn't ignore it."
The following year Holgate began working as a consumer advocate and consultant in the same facility to which she was admitted. She then came across WRAP when working in a community clinic. While WRAP had been around for 15 years, it was not yet well-known in Australia.
Holgate was initially drawn to WRAP for personal reasons, but after being immersed, she flew to San Diego to complete her facilitator training in what she calls a "life-changing experience."
After completing her training, Holgate had an opportunity last year to run an 8-week pilot WRAP group for 7-10 people through the community clinic. The success, Holgate says, is already astounding.
"Clinicians in the hospital are starting to change how they are doing things," Holgate said. "We are doing our best to guide clinicians in the work they do to support us on focusing on giving things to aid us in recovery, not just medication management."
While Holgate is still experiencing some resistance to change on the part of medical professionals, she is confident that more education around the evidence-based training will lead to acceptance of WRAP by professionals.
Her goal for the future is to build bridges with communities and share the message of hope by establishing a strong Australian WRAP network, providing support to more localized WRAP initiatives, and starting a WRAP pilot program in forensic prisons.
"The journey of the past 12 months has been incredible and we are seeing a lot of lives change as a result," Holgate said.
Sania Yau, Hong Kong
A social worker by training, Yau began her career in an outpatient psychiatric clinic in Hong Kong for six years. She then moved to Toronto, where she came across the consumer movement in the 1990s and worked with the community to establish consumer-run organizations. She returned to Hong Kong in 1996 and brought back the vision for Hong Kong to join the movement and establish recovery-oriented practices.
In 2009, Yau became CEO of New Life, one of 12 NGOs in Hong Kong that provide psychosocial rehabilitation services including vocational training and mental health prevention. Upon her appointment, Yau decided to bring a change to New Life — one that integrates recovery-oriented practices into the organization’s work to promote community wellness. And that is how her WRAP journey began.
The first-ever WRAP facilitator training in Hong Kong took place in September 2010. Just two short years later, New Life runs 41 groups for peers, single mothers, and high school and university students. Additionally, she helped launch a WRAP facilitator support group as well a WRAP staff wellness group that Yao says has been a culture change agent for the organization.
And just this past September, the organization saw two of its staff earn their advanced level facilitator certifications.
Yau and New Life are currently working with a local university to research the application of WRAP and recovery in Hong Kong. While the final report will be available in a couple months, Yau is already optimistic about the results.
"The initial data analysis tells us not only do peers benefit from major areas of WRAP, but there is also a significant increase in perceived peer support and stigma resistance," Yau said.
In addition to publishing the WRAP manual in Chinese, Yau will continue to advocate to the government that WRAP needs to be funded and included in the system of care.
"WRAP is still in its infancy [in Hong Kong], but it is our conviction that all stakeholders — peers, peer support workers, family, staff, and those involved in efforts to create supportive wellness-based environments — should be using WRAP to recover and achieve wellness," Yau said.
Wali Mutazammil, Ghana
At the first WRAP Around the World Conference in Philadelphia in 2011, Wali Mutazammil declared that WRAP would be in Ghana within one year.
And he made it happen.
Mutazammil can't help but smile when discussing his work with youth and WRAP in Ghana. In partnership with Accra Technical Training Center, a high school in the capital of Ghana, Mutzammil has already brought WRAP to 30 students and cannot wait to influence more.
"This is a pioneering effort in the sense that this is the first time Ghana has been introduced to WRAP," Mutazammil said. "The students and participants are excited and see themselves as ambassadors. They are committed to becoming WRAP facilitators with their colleagues in Canada."
Mutazammil has been pleasantly surprised by the community response to WRAP. Both he and the principal of Accra Technical Training Center were recently interviewed about WRAP on a live early morning talk show. One viewer was so moved that he waited for the pair at the high school to meet them after the interview.
The man informed both Mutazammil and the principal that his wife, who had been working as successful civilian engineer, had been at home for the last three years due to mental health challenges.
"This man said he had to meet us and tell us how touched he was by the five key concepts [of recovery]," Mutazammil said. "And after seeing the interview, he thought I could be of some help. I was stunned. I would say the interview was effective!"
While Mutazammil is a resident of Canada, he anticipates returning to Ghana and moving forward to meet ministries focusing on youth, employment, and education. He also envisions youth WRAP facilitators eventually leading WRAP groups in all high schools throughout Ghana.
In light of a major mental health bill that passed in Ghana in March 2012 — a bill touted by the World Health Organization as the benchmark mental health bill in the world — Mutazammil sees great opportunity for WRAP in the legislation's implementation.
Mutazammil's next goal is to have 90 certified WRAP facilitators in Ghana by August 2013, with 30 being high school students.
Shoki Sasaki, Japan
Fifteen years ago, Shoki Sasaki was injured in an occupational accident as a semi-truck driver delivering promotional pieces for newspapers. He experienced traumatic subarachnoid bleeding and bruising, ultimately being diagnosed with cranial brain injury.
Despite his efforts at rehabilitation, his symptoms kept recurring. At one point, his IQ decreased to 78. He is still in the process of treating his right side as he experiences symptoms similar to those that appear after being shot in the spine.
Sasaki first discovered WRAP in 2009 when a group of facilitators came to a health fair in his prefecture of Miyagi. He then decided to attend a recovery conference in Tokyo later that year to learn more about WRAP. It was at that conference that Sasaki became a believer.
"WRAP has opened my eyes," Sasaki said. "Through WRAP, I learned that I have options for methods of recovery and I can choose one that works for me."
Sasaki was drawn to WRAP because of the respect and voice given to the individual in forming their own recovery plans. He also learned that both he and his supporters should share the same understandings and agreement and if it doesn't work out, it is ok to find a better match for one another.
"During my doctor's office visit, I noticed that a 15-minute appointment is not enough time to find the real cause of my mental health challenge," Sasaki said. "They prescribed the same medication over and over and because my lack of facial expressions — which looked the same to them every time — they had no idea there was more to be seen or more to be heard underneath."
Sasaki says his family is his biggest support system.
"Practicing WRAP makes my mood lighter, and when I do WRAP, I enjoy my life without worry," Sasaki said. "But when I don't feel good, I ask my family to check my facial expressions. Sometimes they notice something before I know that I don't feel good. Then I think about my early warning signs and triggers. WRAP has given me the chance to look into myself deeply."
Sasaki is now a proud WRAP facilitator who wants to keep on helping.
"Now I'm at this conference eager to discover and learn something new in mental health and wellness and WRAP from all over the world," Sasaki said. "And I want to bring it back to Japan to shine and support our younger generation."
Rozlyn Anderson, Scotland
Rozlyn Anderson was adopted into a family who adored her. With two parents and two big brothers, Anderson felt blessed as a kid.
However, when she turned 12, the carefree child she had experienced started to change. Her brothers had left for university and her dad began drinking heavily. Anderson found herself having to put her father to bed as her mother struggled with coping. At the age of 19, her mother left and Anderson was left to care for her father on her own. Shortly thereafter, she used drinking as a coping tool herself.
After a couple years of soul-searching, Anderson found herself working at The Richmond Fellowship Scotland, a nonprofit organization that supports more than 3000 people across Scotland. Through her work, she learned about WRAP and was trained as a facilitator in 2009.
With a deep belief in the positive powers of WRAP, she was instrumental in developing team WRAP for her organization.
"I no longer felt like a square peg in a round hole; I fit in my own hole," Anderson said. "I enjoy helping the collective wellness of everyone involved by giving people on our teams a voice as to what works for them and what they need for each other."
Anderson says since the implementation of team WRAP, communication between staff has improved and the quality of support among staff members is excellent.
"I've found that WRAP is a way to connect with others on a human level," Anderson said. "A lot of people back home are on board for expanding its presence. I am very hopeful for the future."
This month marks the one-month anniversary of the horrifying Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the nation’s second deadliest shooting, in which twenty children and six adults were killed in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut. Trying to grapple with this disaster and feeling like a helpless observer has been unsettling. Wrapping my head around the murder of anyone, nonetheless innocent children, has been even more jarring.
With most painful anniversaries that make headline news, the media has been covering the grieving families, updating the world on President Obama’s proposal for new gun regulations, and dissecting the perpetrator.
As a former reporter, I have been conditioned to find out the “why” in every equation. Only then can I meet my deadline, turn in my 500-word count article, and rest. Unfortunately, there will be no resting, as there is no simple connect the dot equation or an “aha” moment. How do you make sense of a senseless tragedy? Yet, I’ve seen many try to answer the impossible “why” question. Why did Adam Lanza do it?
In the past month on several occasions my anxiety has risen as I’ve heard reporters and friends alike yet again connect mental illness with violence. Hearing choruses of “people with mental illness should be locked up” in different octaves has inspired me to respond. As someone who has suffered from depression and PTSD, I cannot idly sit by while the community I identify with is further stigmatized. Creating an US vs. THEM, regarding people with mental health challenges, is dangerous. Especially, since the world is filled with people with mental health challenges working, growing, and living good productive lives.
According to the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, the prevalence of violence among those with a major mental disorder who did not abuse substances was equivalent to their non-substance abusing neighbors. Additional studies show that people with mental health challenges are four times more likely to be victims of violent crimes rather than perpetrators. What these studies show to me is that mental illness is not equivalent to violence, and putting up barricades based on fear and misinformation only further perpetuates incorrect stereotypes.
I cannot answer the why in this equation, and I wish I could. However, being blindly reactive has never personally served me and I don’t think it serves society in general. These 500 words cannot convey the pain and compassion I feel towards the families who lost a loved one. These 500 words certainly cannot undo this real nightmare. But hopefully these 500 words can start a dialogue about prevention and compassion. Ideally avoiding unwarranted finger pointing. I don’t have the answers; I don’t know the best policy. But I know that scapegoating a community, my community, is not the answer. So since we can’t find the answer to why, maybe we should ask how we can do better.
By Khatera Aslami
To my PEERS family,
Thank you for a being part of my life for close to a decade! I remember when I began my journey with you in my early 20's. I was working at a mental health rehabilitation center when I learned about your groups in the community. I attended your WRAP orientations as a participant. I shared my story of overcoming mental health challenges for the first time and began my journey in consumer- system transformation with you by first serving on PEERS board of directors and then as executive director since 2007.
Over the last five years we have accomplished so much! Our team has grown from 3 employees to now 20 full time employees. We’ve seen financial growth from a budget of $300,000 in 2007 to now over $2.1 million. In 2009, we organized Alameda County’s diverse stakeholders together for a dialogue about ending mental health stigma and discrimination lead by researcher Pat Corrigan, Ph.D.
The next year, we moved from our San Pablo office that was 800 sq. ft. to our 333 Hegenberger office with close to 4000 sq. ft. We began planning the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign, which aims to end mental health stigma and discrimination throughout the county.
We kicked off the Alameda County Transitional Age Youth Initiative in collaboration with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. We held our first Mental Health and Wellness Walk in 2010, implemented our Stigma Stops With Me Pledge program, co-founded the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations, partnered with the Pool of Consumer Champions and California State University East Bay organizations to present the first WRAP for Health Conference in 2012. And we became the first Copeland Center International Center of Excellence, a recognition that shows we had demonstrated programs based on WRAP Facilitation, its core values and ethics and have robust, sustainable and integrated WRAP programs.
Thanks to your support, energy and partnership, we have made a difference in our community and touched many lives. Today PEERS serves more people in Alameda County than ever before, providing peer support services and trainings to hundreds of consumers, bearing our experience and the message of hope for wellness and recovery to the world at large.
I feel honored to have met my PEERS family, the wonderful people who are part of my life and have made it more meaningful and joyous. PEERS is in the hands of an amazing team, and a passionate and dedicated Interim Executive Director, Lisa Smusz. I have full confidence that PEERS will continue to achieve great things and fulfill its mission to instill hope, resiliency and well being for mental health consumers in our community and across the world.
You are a part of my heart.
Khatera Aslami Tamplen