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Peer support workers needed

Those recovering from mental illness encouraged to apply for program

Mental health peer support worker Chris Gielow is able to provide the type of support professionals cannot because he is a survivor.

Gielow, who suffers from schizophrenia and has received mental health services since his early 20s, shared his story as a peer support worker during a Mental Health & Addiction Services presentation at Hot Spot on Cleveland Avenue, Friday (Feb.27) as a means of recruiting more, much-needed colleagues.

His symptoms are now under control and Gielow serves as a role model for others recovering from serious mental illness.

"Medications work well for me and peer counselling is a way for me to give back to my community," Gielow said.

The North Shore/Coast Garibaldi Peer Support Program is actively recruiting for the next training course starting in September 2009. Training takes place one day a week for four months and includes a 40-hour practicum. The deadline for applications is Friday, April 10. Peer support workers are trained on topics such as communication skills, self-care, boundaries, suicide risk assessment, medication, goal setting and resource management.

Amanda Schell, Squamish's Mental Health Consumer Initiatives Support worker, said peer support works in ways traditional methods can't.

"There is a need for support workers in the Sea to Sky, and they give something professionals are not able to give," Schell said.

Schell said the personal experiences of peer support workers are invaluable.

Whether it's meeting for coffee or attending community events, peer support workers prevent isolation. Workers also help empower clients to problem solve, reflect and make informed decision. Most importantly, peer support workers act as role models and instil hope.

Schell said the relationship between a peer support worker and a client generally lasts until specific goals are met, which is usually a six-month period. Schell adds that the program has reduced hospitalizations among clients and created stronger social networks.

The criteria to be accepted into the training program include personal experience receiving mental health services and being on the road to recovery. Schell said the program needs people with good interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to be empathetic.

"They should have a desire to help others in their recovery process, and have maintained personal mental wellness for a significant amount of time."

The decision to become a peer support worker, said Gielow, is something he will never regret. He said working with clients gives him a sense of personal accomplishment and keeps his own disability in check.

"I think it's helped in my recovery as well because I am constantly reminded of the coping skills I have learned."

Applications for the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi Peer Support Program are available at the Squamish Mental Health Centre and Hot Spot. For more information, contact Schell at 604-892-6400 or email Amanda.schell@vch.ca.