Blog /Alameda County
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 a 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 the 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.
On behalf of our staff and Board of Directors, I am delighted to celebrate PEERS' 10 years of community service, empowering individuals and advocating for a mental health system that focuses on wellness and recovery led by consumers.
Fortunately, Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services has valued, supported and collaborated with PEERS since our inception in December 2001. We would not be here today without them by our side. We also would not be here if it were not for our past leaders: our founder Tracy Thode, Sydney Loggins, Andree Reyes, Harold Lowe, Katrina Killian, John Woodruff, and many more who planted and watered the seeds of our growth.
It was while reflecting on this momentous event, that I was reminded of the principles that motivated not only me, but many of us to get involved with PEERS.The principles that PEERS was founded on and continues to drive our success today are:
1. Building positive relationships
2. Fostering collaborations between consumers and the community
Through these principles, we are reaching out and improving the quality of life for so many struggling with mental health challenges. We are self-determined and empowered to share both our personal experiences and expertise about our health.
Ten years ago, I was a person who feared sharing my experience within the mental health system. I had seen several psychiatrists in my lifetime and struggled with isolation, extended periods of sadness and sudden mood changes. I was ashamed and worried that others would think I was incompetent and therefore discredit me.
Luckily, I was introduced to PEERS through my work at Villa Fairmont, a mental health rehabilitation center. I attended one of the monthly Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) orientations and was hooked from the beginning. WRAP fascinated me. Its focus on hope, personal responsibility, education, self advocacy and support was exactly what I needed. The orientation brought together individuals with unique life experiences and different views of wellness. The common thread was that we were there with a willingness to learn. We shared our wellness tools and began developing action plans to address our challenges. I remember leaving that orientation with a sense of renewed hope and commitment to my wellness. The most important detail to me was that the staff modeled the principles PEERS was founded on, positive relationship building and community collaborations. They also created a space that was safe, welcoming and treated everyone with unconditional high regard. It was powerful!
Clearly, our founder had a vision and emphasized the need for the inclusion and leadership of people with mental health challenges in transforming the mental health system. It’s an enormous accomplishment that we are standing here 10 years later with all of our success.
In the last four years, we have grown 300% and touched over 11,500 lives.
We are also making waves in the media/marketing world and have established an unwavering commitment to quality, innovation, and partnerships when bringing positive changes to the mental health system.
Some of you may have heard the African proverb which says, “If you wish to go fast, go alone. But if you wish to go far, go together.” Together we will build, create and lead a community where we live, love, learn, work, play and pray together in safety and acceptance.
I look forward to the next 10 years and hope you will join us in spreading wellness and recovery.