Natalie Bryant knows all too well what it is like living with mental illness. She also knows she wishes she’d gotten treatment much sooner. The 36-year-old says she thought she could handle her disease on her own.
“You know when I think about how much life I lost dealing with this without any help if I had just gotten help back then who knows where I would be now,” Bryant said. “I was too embarrassed to admit I needed help.” But things have a way of working out and perhaps Bryant is exactly where she is supposed to be…encouraging others to seek help when they notice the first sign that something isn’t right.
Bryant is a beacon to others living with mental illness showing them that recovery is possible. She is one of six peer specialist working in AltaPointe’s adult residential services program.
“I wish I had someone like me on my road to recovery because you know even with people who have medical degrees and therapists and all that…it is great to know the terminology, but it is another thing to live through it,” Bryant added.
AltaPointe gave me a reason to get out of bed
Each day Bryant meets with residents to tell her story of survival including all of the highs and lows that come with battling anxiety and depression. The college graduate with a degree in political science from the University of Alabama tells others about her days when holding a job or even the simplest of tasks such as getting out of bed didn’t seem possible.
“I knew then I needed help, and I reached out to AltaPointe because I did not have a job or insurance so I visited adult outpatient services,” Bryant shared. “AltaPointe got me out of bed and going again. A few years later I saw the posting for the peer specialist position; I’ve been here ever since.”
Peer specialists build relationships based on shared experiences
Bryant says her job is as much therapeutic for her peers as it is for her. “All of this is part of the recovery process,” Bryant said. “I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life and that is okay. It gets easier every day.”
Patricia McNair, adult residential services assistant director, says peer support was a part of the statewide transformation of the mental health system to shift patient care from state hospitals to community care.
“It is about giving consumers a voice in decisions that affect their lives and treatment,” McNair added. “Hope, encouragement, resiliency, and recovery are the principles that are the foundation of peer support.”
Gwen Mose, adult residential services assistant coordinator, manages the ARS peer specialist program.
“They are very important because they help our residents and serve as mentors,” Mose added. “The resident can open up to them in ways they cannot to others, and it helps motivate them to achieve their recovery goals.”
The requirements to be considered for a peer specialist position include; current or former recipient of mental health services for at least one year with a significant mental health disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ability to identify as a consumer of mental health services and speak openly regarding diagnosis and treatment, successful completion of the Peer Specialist training for certification. “One of the best decisions I made was to get help and in turn help others,” Bryant shared. “I love my job.”