Behavioral Health Peer Supports Use Life Experience to Help Others

New Program Offered by Center for Independent Living Helps Adults Solve Problems

behavioral health peer

behavioral health peerWhat’s the story?

In late 2016, the North Country Initiative sent out a Request for Information (RFI) to qualified partners, looking for Behavioral Health Peer Support Services. These services are necessary to help our region improve health outcomes for patients with behavioral health diagnoses, including those who have co-occurring chronic health conditions.

From the RFIs received, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living (NRCIL) was selected. NRCIL is a perfect match for this job — they have been providing quality, peer-run supports and services for decades throughout our region. (Hey, if the shoe fits — wear it!)

To get an idea of how this newly established program is going, I sat down with Jane Arnold and Kelly Mead, two of NRCIL’s Behavioral Health Peer Supports. It was immediately evident that Jane and Kelly’s life experiences, work ethic and genuine compassion for others have already begun to make difference. They’re paying it forward to others needing to be heard, understood, and connected to the services they need.

Okay, let’s start with some introductions!

behavioral health peer
Jane Arnold

Jane — Jane’s military family moved to the area in the 1980’s and she has lived in the North Country ever since. She is well-seasoned on what services are available in our region and some of the challenges unique to residents of Northern New York.

Through her personal and family situations, Jane has learned to seek out various services and understand how to work effectively with other organizations to link people to services they need for a safe, healthy and fulfilling life. If someone you care for needs assistance, Jane can help them take on obstacles that stand in their way to make sure they get results.

“I love learning new things,” she said. “Every day is completely different, and being able to teach others empowerment makes me so excited to come to work every day.”

behavioral health peer
Kelly Mead

Kelly — Kelly recently moved here from Southern California. She experienced firsthand how California transformed its healthcare system to include peer support services and the positive impact it had on her and others.

When Kelly experienced a personal struggle years ago, she was connected to a peer support specialist and a system of strength-based services providing evidence-based care. She credits these services for helping her get to where she is today.

“Lived experience is what I work off of,” she said. “For me to get where I’m at today, I stumbled many times. I didn’t get here overnight.”

Now Kelly is ready to use her own experiences to help others.

So how is this going to happen?

Providing such a wide range of services to a diverse community will not be an easy job, but Jane and Kelly are more than dedicated to the work they do.

Together, they practice strength-based goal setting with their clients. They start with a casual conversation as an initial interview, getting a general sense of what their clients’ needs are and what services might be helpful to them. They then prioritize the situations that are at hand and work closely with their clients, encouraging them to find the supports they need to achieve the short- and long-term goals they have set for themselves.

In this way, Jane and Kelly wear many different hats — coach, mentor, investigator, trusted confidant and whatever else is needed to help the people who come to them.

“People come here looking for help,” Jane said. “They need someone to point them in the right direction, and I often hear them say ‘someone finally understands me’.”

“I can honestly say that I’ve been there and I know how they feel,” she said. “Once you open that door, it helps people open up, especially the tougher ones to reach.”

Kelly wholeheartedly agrees. She said that making a personal connection with her clients has made all the difference in helping them.

“It’s helpful to connect with them on an emotional level,” she said. “We meet them where they’re at.”

Whenever possible, Kelly and Jane try to meet with clients where they’re most comfortable — at home, at work, somewhere in the community, or elsewhere. They say this helps them to connect more as well as remove any transportation concerns for the client.

“I just keep it focused on them,” Kelly said. “It’s all about what they want; I keep putting the power back on them and help to link them to the resources they need.”

Though the program is in its early stages, both women have had success stories already. What’s more important though, is the energy with which they approach the opportunities and challenges ahead.

“I love my job,” said Kelly, with nods of agreement from Jane. “Being a part of the community and being able to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life is what keeps me going.”

“I think this initiative is wonderful,” she added. “It’ll work, you’ll see!”


If you have a patient, family member, or friend who you think could benefit from Behavioral Health Peer Support Services, contact the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living at (315) 785-8703 or by visiting www.nrcil.net.

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