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

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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs