Peer Support Specialists Care for and Connect Rural Behavioral Health Clients
Rural Health Information Hub | The Rural Monitor
by Allee Mead
About 14 years ago, Carolyn Pifer of rural Manistee, Michigan, told her primary care doctor that something was wrong. The doctor said he’d give her a phone number for a psychiatrist, but he never did.
“I left the office, having humbled myself to say that there was something wrong, only not to be addressed or taken seriously,” she said. Within six months, Pifer was experiencing suicidal thoughts and found herself in the psychiatric system.
I had to find a way to put my life back together again and find out what the new normal was going to look like.
“I had lost everything,” Pifer said, “the job, the house, the car, even the children for a little while…I had to find a way to put my life back together again and find out what the new normal was going to look like.”
As she looked for a new normal and a new job, Pifer learned about the Centra Wellness Network peer support program, which hires people with diagnosed mental health or past substance use to help patients going through a similar experience. The job sounded too good to be true. “It just didn’t seem possible,” said Pifer, “that [my diagnosis] can actually be a good thing!”
Across the country, Gloriana Hunter, Ed.D., of Phoenix, Arizona, had been living with suicidal ideation for about 30 years: “and it just escalated to a point where I was considering every night whether I wanted to live the next day…Finally, I realized this was not a normal response to life; this was not how I wanted to live.”
Like Pifer, seeking help for her mental illness led Hunter on a new path of understanding mental health as well as a new career path: “my career in marketing I just left behind. And all the money that comes with that!” Through the Peer & Family Career Academy (PFCA), she now provides peer support training in rural Arizona counties.
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