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Empowered To Serve

As Helen San Andres sat in her job interview with Peer Support Coordinator Patrick Raymond, she realized something remarkable. The very thing that other employers would have seen as a detriment to employment was actually an asset for Peer Support. Not only that, it was a requirement.

Helen For The Interview[61]
Helen is a Peer Support Worker with Communitas

“Right there and then, I hoped I would be hired,” Helen says. “I thought that this kind of work would be liberating because here, mental health struggles are important and useful and people who experience them are not shunned but empowered.”

Peer Support helps people living with mental health challenges move towards recovery. Trained Peer Support Workers (PSW) have lived experience with mental illness and their unique perspective enables them to offer this support either one-on-one or through group learning. Helen was hired and has been a PSW since 2016. It is work she absolutely loves.

“When Patrick told me that I was hired, I was on top of the world,” she remembers. “It was the beginning of a good life, full of hope and continuous recovery.”

Stock Image College Students
It was while she was in college that Helen’s mental health challenges began

Helen’s journey with mental health challenges began in college. She did well as a student and had good part-time jobs, working at a bank and also for an engineering firm. Everything was going well until anxiety set in. She began to experience depression, symptoms of psychosis, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then she heard voices in her head. Eventually, she received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

“The hospital became my home for 3 months, but my parents were very supportive,” she says. “They, along with the Surrey mental health team, case managers, and psychiatrists, all refused to give up on me.”

Eventually, with the help of her psychiatrist, she found the right medication and dosage, which made an enormous difference. Her case manager encouraged her to visit her local mental health clubhouse and participate in their programs. That’s when she learned about Peer Support.

Mental Health Care Sketch Diagram
Peer Support helps people on their journey towards mental wellness

“It was a magnificent piece of paper on a cork board, drawing me in,” she says with a smile. “My mom encouraged me to try it. I did all the training and then I met Patrick who interviewed me.”

Patrick remembers the interview with Helen. He is inspired by Helen’s willingness to do whatever is asked of her and her fearlessness in trying new things.

“No matter what I have assigned to Helen, I hear nothing but praise from everyone she comes into contact with,” Patrick says.

Training Stock Image
Facilitating groups has become one of Helen’s favourite things

Helen works with the Virtual Psychiatry Unit (VPU), visits people in hospital, and facilitates groups. At first, she found group facilitation to be a challenge. As a shy person, she wasn’t sure that she would ever be able to stand in front of people and speak but she wanted to try. She started by co-facilitating with fellow PSW, Ashleigh Singleton. Ashleigh says Helen is a gifted facilitator who is able to make genuine connections with others.

“Helen is kind and compassionate. Her resiliency is an encouragement to all who attend her groups,” Ashleigh says. “It has been so cool to see her come out of her shell and really excel in facilitation groups.”

With Ashleigh[56]
Ashleigh and Helen facilitate groups together. They have also become good friends.

Having overcome her fears, Helen says facilitation is now one the favourite aspects of her job as a PSW. She learns something from the people she serves every time she leads a group and that is richly rewarding.

If Helen has one wish for people who struggle with mental health challenges, it is that they would know that help is there. She has a soft spot for young adults, especially students who feel as though their future is bleak because of their struggles.

“I’ve been through those struggles. When things get tough, do not give up,” she says. “Life with mental illness should not be disheartening because there are many coping strategies. Help is there for you, you need not to be afraid to ask for it.”

Learn more about Peer Support today!

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