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Celebrating National Peer Support Day

The Peer Support program, offered by Durham Mental Health Services (DMHS), is essential to Lakeridge Health’s Mental Health and Addictions services. Donor support plays an important role in the continuing training of Peer Support Specialists, who balance that knowledge with their lived experience with both mental health and addiction issues. This specialized training ensures these professionals can provide evidence-based support and a safe space where clients can be vulnerable and open.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to remove roadblocks to make services accessible,” explains Michelle Rhude, a Peer Support Specialist with DMHS.

DCD_Consult-1_FB-Twitter-1.jpgMost clients are referred to the Peer Support Program by LH Central Connect. Central Connect is a central line that allows patients and health-care providers to easily make new referrals into the Mental Health and Addictions (MHA) program offered through Lakeridge Health. It is an important part of Together, Best Mental Health – Lakeridge Health’s multi-year plan to deliver an integrated system of mental health and substance use care in Durham Region.

“Once they’re referred to us, we assess their needs and offer any programming that supports their wellness plan,” says Michelle. “The Peer Support program offers that safe, supportive place where people can focus on their recovery.”

Peer Support Specialists currently have a presence in DMHS Crisis services, the Homelessness program at DMHS, the emergency department at Lakeridge Health and within the community.

“The Peer Support Specialists at DMHS have Mental Health and Addictions education and first-hand experience. The added layer of lived experience provides our members with empathetic and compassionate understanding in the support they receive,” Michelle explains. “Our goal is to equip clients to cope with what life is handing them and live as well as possible.

In December 2022, a grateful client Michelle worked with wanted to know how they could support the program. Their generous donation to Lakeridge Health Foundation enabled Michelle and three other Peer Support Specialists to attend the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) certification training this past May.

The Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery designed this evidence-based training to help people take ownership of their wellness.

“WRAP training is well sought after; it’s a program to empower,” says Michelle. “A Recovery Plan is a tool that equips people with insight into their symptoms, a look at what their personalized recovery tools are, some skills to get well and manage life as it happens going forward.”

DCD_Consult-2_FB-Twitter-1.jpgMichelle and her teammates were able to gain Level 2 facilitation skills. Michelle is hopeful to be able to take the Advanced Level Training (Level 3), which would allow her to certify the rest of the peer support staff at Lakeridge Health. Peer Support Specialist Kim Dempsey also attended the training and was able to focus on her ability to relate to clients on a deeper level.

“Storytelling is extremely important in my role,” says Kim. “Having the spotlight on me when facilitating a group can be daunting. Getting up in front of our group for this workshop was a little stressful at times, but the more we delivered our modules, the more at ease I felt.”

“I expanded my mental health language,” explains Kim. “The more I talk, the more clients in the community can relate and understand I am not just a support but also a warrior of mental health.”

The Peer Support Program aims to help clients take control of their mental health and potentially prevent or reduce hospital visits. That empowerment is something that stands out to Michelle.

“Meeting people where they’re at and letting people gain their power back is a passion of mine,” explains Michelle. “WRAP training is one of the most vital things we offer to people who are ready for the program. Without that donation, we never would have gotten that training – it’s essential to this program.”