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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
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 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 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 US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
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 Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
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.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs