Understanding Lived Experience

Cindy Tillory Avatar

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 21% of American adults experienced some form of mental illness in 2020. Yet only 46.2% received treatment in 2020. Of the groups of people to seek treatment Asian (20.8%), Black (37.1%), and Latino (35.1%) peoples were the lowest to receive treatment.

Why does this matter?

In my life can count on one hand how many black therapists I have known as well as how many Asian and Hispanic therapists, honestly they all fit in one hand. The answer is Five. Five diverse therapists out of maybe 75 that I know. To be honest, out of mental health professionals, I know far more peer supports and case managers who are of POCs than I ever do therapists or other clinicians.

Many people who do get treatment on a mental health diagnosis don’t see themselves reflected in the people trying to help them. They are not of color. Though they may be understanding when it comes to issues about race, they do not have the lived experience and that part matters greatly.

I recently got accepted into the Recovery Innovations Peer support training program known as Peer Employment Training (PET) and will hopefully become certified to become a peer support specialist. It has been a journey for me and I can’t wait to tell you more as the class unfolds.

What is peer support? how does this differ from the work of a caseworker? Who is and is not peer support?

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

According to Mental Health America, a behavioral health peer is “…Usually used to refer to someone who shares the experience of living with a psychiatric disorder and/or addiction.” many people are peers; we have shared experiences that can create a transformative kinship, however, what sets a certified peer apart form say an acquaintance or friend you know is their training. Peer Support Specialists are also mandated, reporters. As specialists, they specialize in is their own experience. I have been helped by many excellent peer support specialists and their work is often undervalued and underappreciated. Peers do the hard work of giving hope through their lived experiences which is something I strive to do on this blog. My story can connect to people all over because of a shared experience.

Case Management and Peer Support: What’s the difference?

Many people wrongly conflate peer support with case managers, but they are comparing apples to oranges. Yes, case managers and peer supports do work closely together. However, the work and role of a peer support specialists are often different than that of a case manager in many ways.

What a Case Manager does

  • listens and gives advice and or helps to problem solve.
  • works with you on goals to help with your overall well being and employment
  • assess your needs based on questions
  • tries to connect you to resources or helps give you the tools to find a resource

What a Peer Support Specialist does

  • listens to your needs and provides judgment-free feedback
  • helps you to advocate your own needs
  • models wellness to people undergoing life challenges
  • helps you find the tools within yourself to best help you thrive.

As you may see both are solving a problem, but have different methods to go around it. Depending on your needs you may need one or both of these services and that’s okay. we all need a little extra help sometimes.

if you need to reach out to someone (and if you are in the United States) please call (800) 273-TALK or if you are in need of services call 211.

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