News / Health

Peer Counseling Aids Mental Illness Recovery

Non-pharmaceutical treatment has been used for 50 years

Despite pharmaceutical advances in treating mental illness, peer counseling remains an important part of therapy.
Despite pharmaceutical advances in treating mental illness, peer counseling remains an important part of therapy.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

In a courtyard outside the local library in Kent County, Maryland, five men and women gather around a table to talk.

“I like it here," John says. "You meet a lot of people. And not only that, the same people have the same problem, some worse than others. I come here to be around people, to meet people.”

“Since I found this group, I don’t feel so isolated," says Victoria. "I don’t feel so insulated.”

John and Victoria - who are only using first names to protect their privacy - are members of a support group run by Chesapeake Voyagers.

The mental health, wellness and recovery center works to help people who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks and other disorders that can alter thought, mood or behavior.

One in five adults in America suffers from some form of mental illness, according to a recent survey. Although help is available, most never seek it - perhaps because of a lack of understanding about the illness or the dread of stigma.

But the repercussions of untreated mental illness - job loss, family disruption, isolation, homelessness and hopelessness - can be devastating. Over the past four decades, researchers have developed powerful new medications to ease symptoms, but peer counseling - a non-pharmaceutical treatment that has been used effectively for half a century - is still an important part of therapy.

“The first day that I came to meet with Chesapeake Voyagers was a huge task for me to open the door," says Rebecca. "I wanted to run away so quick and cry, but yet, I knew I had to do that if I was going to get better.”

The 47 year old has battled depression since childhood, though she says it wasn't diagnosed until recently. For Rebecca, isolation is a huge problem.

“I had two attempts at suicide. I think that when you’re in this valley of darkness where you can’t pull yourself together enough to even do the basic needs - showering, your personal hygiene - it’s a real struggle to try and feel like you’re worthwhile, that you have a place in society," she says. "You don’t feel like you’re socially fit to go into crowds, go to stores. You don’t feel like you can make meals. Depression takes away your character. So you have nothing to fall back on.”

Support groups - like those run by Chesapeake Voyagers - offer something to fall back on:  a community of people facing similar issues. And, as more people bear their soul to the world on reality television programs, it could lead more people like Rebecca, John and Victoria to feel comfortable talking to others about what they’re going through.

Peer support counselors - many of whom have experienced and successfully dealt with mental health problems themselves - lead the groups.

Counselor Audrey D’Allaird is bipolar and says she couldn't find a job until she discovered Chesapeake Voyagers.

"Essentially, with bipolar you have extreme highs and extreme lows, and I could get a job so quickly, but I could lose it just as fast. I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand it was mental illness."

D’Allaird leads support groups dealing with depression, and the effects of emotional and physical abuse. Another of her groups focuses on drug and alcohol addiction - conditions that research shows are closely tied to mental disorders.

In addition to support groups, Chesapeake Voyagers hosts social events like evenings out for dinner, bowling or going to the movies. The center also offers access to computers for finding jobs and housing, as well as information on other mental health resources.

Similar services are available in communities around the country and, increasingly, in virtual communities through websites and Internet bulletin boards.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid