Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peer Support's Ability to Intervene in the Lives of People w/ Severe Persistent Mental Illness : "The Personal is the Political"

The below is my comment to Dr. Jim Pitts video at NC Policy in which he outlines the benefit of peer support for his schizophrenic son. See:

Susan Sontag, writer, suggested that, "The personal is the political." I take my politics personally and the defunding of schools and mental health is an affront to me.


Dr. Pitts, a retired sociologist from UNCA, and active in NAMI NC, mentioned that 'mental health is a human problem', not one associated w/ being a Democrat or Republican.

Its nice to reach across the aisle, important even. The fact is, however, that its the Republicans whom are in control of the NC State Legislature, currently, are intent on denying the extension of the $.01 sales tax which impacts directly schools in NC. Dr. Pitts speaks in this video about other defunding of mental health-related services.

But what do schools have to do w/ mental health?

As a mother of a 16 yr old son w/ ADHD and learning disabilities, which are commonly linked to ADHD, smaller classrooms make a difference in terms of his mental health. Lack of funding means loss of teachers and larger classrooms.

I would like to hear more about the peer support of which Dr. Pitts speaks as having been so helpful to his son whom has schizophrenia. I can well imagine that linking to others within the community is a key to his son's mental health improvement. What I see as one of the number one problems of people with SPMI (Severe Persistent Mental Illness) is loneliness and peer support is a partial solution to that existential issue.

As a clinical psychologist, I work mostly in Haywood County. Peer support there consists of classes, good ones, which are run by Meridian Behavioral Health Care, which spun out of Smoky Mountain Center LME, in terms of those who started Meridian. I have clients whom go to those peer support meetings but one of the comments I have received from one of my SPMI clients is that the information is not easy to is too full of psychobabble, it sounds like. NAMI, perhaps, provides a base for people and their families as associated w/ SPMI, to meet and connect.

There are other issues associated with accessing peer support. You have to transport yourself to Meridian in order to obtain peer support. Transportation is an issue in rural western NC, moreso in Haywood county than Buncombe County, where Dr. Pitts works w/ NAMI.

In Haywood county, and as associated w/ that NAMI meeting which is on the 3rd Thursday of every month at the Methodist Church in Waynesville, @ 7 pm, there is undoubtedly another form of peer support.

All the barriers associated w/ not being able to obtain peer support is a very important issue and those include: transportation---which is associated w/ 'rural-ness', if you will; outreach capacity of peer support people (the 'classes' at Meridian are 'run' by people w/ mental health experience); and, relevance, to name some off the top of my head and as associated w/ what clients tell me. While there may be good peer support 'specialists' in Waynesville/ Haywood county, the ability to outreach to those whom need a persistent plan for how to deal w/ their loneliness is a complex issue.

Without peer support------which is what Community Support Services (CSS) was about in part------people w/ SPMI are lonely, depressed, usually jobless, impoverished, and recipients of small disability checks which are just enough to cover expenses if they eat in the local soup kitchen.

So, again, I would like to hear more from Dr. Pitts about how he and we think we can better establish peer support in western NC.

Peer support that works and is in the community on a persistent basis would be a balm for the loneliness which is killing my clients w/ SPMI.

Marsha V. Hammond, PhD
Clinical / Health Psychology
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