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Published on April 01, 2015

Peers Provide Special Kind of Support to Mental Health Patients

Janelle Jensen begins her day in the mental health emergency department on the Bryan West Campus like a lot of other busy staff members.

peers janelle and rhonda

Peers Janelle and Rhonda lead WRAP recovery groups

She checks on patients, explaining intake processes to them, asking them what they need and helping to make them comfortable and less apprehensive or ashamed. But Janelle is not a doctor or a nurse. She is a peer specialist.

Peer specialists, or peers for short, are people who have had their own mental health hurdles and who have been successful in their recovery. They have experience with the behavioral health system and are an important part of the mental health care team at Bryan.

The mental health emergency department sees about 500-600 patients in an average month, says mental health services counseling and program development manager Dave Miers, PhD. The peers’ work will touch at least half of these people.

Program warmly received

Beginning in 2010, the Nebraska Mental Health Association worked with Bryan to place peers in the hospital to work with adult mental health patients through a grant from the Community Health Endowment (CHE) fund. The program was successful and warmly received by staff and patients alike.

“When that grant was exhausted, the mental health leadership team at Bryan wanted to continue the program with added emphasis on wellness groups and the inclusion of adolescent patients to our contacts,” Dr. Miers says.

Thanks to a new CHE grant, Bryan was able to hire four peer specialists. Bryan’s peers received extensive training and certification before beginning their work with patients in March 2014. Peers also were certified through a national program and trained to work with patients of all ages. Youths they serve at Bryan are 14-18 years of age. Peers use different ways to reach patients once they return to their communities, such as cell phone texting to remind the teenagers about group meetings scheduled during the week or to offer supportive thoughts on recovery.

“Peers help in so many ways,” says Linda Knudsen, LCSW, education coordinator for mental health services at Bryan. “They are able to use their own life experiences to help people in a way that others on the health care team are not,” she explains. “They can help patients make sense of what will happen if admitted, and they give them a lot of information to try to decrease their anxiety about being here.”

Inspired to become a peer

Janelle can relate to that. She experienced her own struggles with mental health when she was a teenager. She was hospitalized briefly and had psychiatric and therapy support. While attending Southeast Community College, Janelle did an internship at the Keya House, a peer-run respite house. There, Janelle got to see the work peers were doing, and this inspired her to focus her efforts on becoming a peer specialist.

“I always think back to my time in crisis and wished I had peer support available,” she says.

One of the important roles of the Bryan peers is to lead what are called WRAP groups. There is another education and certification process to become a WRAP facilitator. WRAP stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and these plans are a cornerstone of the wellness and recovery process, Dr. Miers says. When peers lead wellness groups on the mental health patient floors, they introduce the WRAP concept. At discharge, patients will have identified wellness tools that encourage self-care strategies.

Because patients may go from crisis to intervention or treatment in a fairly short time, individualized WRAP plans help keep patients on the path to recovery. They are created by the patient, so that each person can focus on his or her own mental health. Each WRAP includes tools, daily maintenance plans, triggers and early warning signs. WRAP plans encourage personal responsibility.

Positive connections with youth

Linda Kimminau, RN, BSN, is nurse manager for Bryan youth mental health services.

She says the peers have made a definite connection with the teenagers in the youth inpatient area.

“The peer specialists are helping the teens develop individual skills to manage their own wellness and recovery,” she says. “Several of our former patients are now attending the WRAP group that encourages continued personal control of daily challenges.”

For Janelle and her fellow peers, the enefits of the program are many. Not only do they provide information and kinship to those at perhaps their lowest point in life, but peers also help one another, knowing that recovery is an ongoing process, and that everyone has a bad day now and then.

“We have tough days here, but I’m always pulled back to ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,’” she says.

“On a personal level, it shows me too that there is definitely hope, that we all have something to offer. In peer support it’s live and grow, give and take, and I’m continuing to learn from the peers that I offer support to, and that is really important to me.”

And for patients? “It’s helping them see that they have worth. Helping them find the things that work and get rid of the things that don’t work. At the end of the day, knowing that I was there, that someone came to us at their worst and I was able to be there and sit with them, to offer support…that’s a big deal, and it keeps me going,” says Janelle.

Learn more about WRAP meeting times for adults and youth.

Additional Resources

Emergency mental health care/crisis assessments to determine if hospitalization is needed are available 24/7 from the mental health emergency department. For non-emergency mental health care, contact the Bryan Counseling Center at 402-481-5991.

Online confidential depression, anxiety and alcohol screenings are available at bryanhealth.org/online. For online screenings and more information about mental health services and the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) community groups, visit bryanhealth.org/mental health.

To learn how you can support the work of Bryan Health, please call the Bryan Foundation at 402-481-8605.

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