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Peer Support Strong: Reflecting on the Power of Peers

December 8, 2020

Last week, we came together as a community to celebrate Peer Support Week along with Lived Experience Recovery Network (LERN) and Nipissing Mental Health Housing and Support Services (NMHHSS). The event drew together more than 200 registrants across Ontario in support of celebrating, supporting and showing the strength of peer support workers and organizations within the province.

To kick things off, we heard from Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade about the essential role peer support plays in maintaining community health. Mary Davis, CEO of NMHHSS, then shared a bit about the history of peer support in the Nipissing region and why we must include those with lived experience in our mental health systems. And Betty-Lou Kristy, the first ever Chair of the Ministry of Health’s Patient and Family Advisory Council shared her commitment to bringing a strong voice of lived experience to our healthcare systems and shared a bright “peer strong” vision for the future. 

Between watching a peer-themed holiday carol and experiencing personal messages about the role peer support has played in the lives of our attendees, we learned from peer leaders about important issues across the industry. Allan Strong, Former Clinical Lead Peer Support at Choices for Change, gave us an introduction to the history of peer support in Canada, closing as always with a Leafs joke. Donna Forget, Program Manager at Nipissing First Nation: True-Self Debwewendizwin Employment and Training, taught us about the importance of practicing cultural humility when working with indigenous populations. Dr. Dell’Aquila spoke about the role of peer support during our present opioid epidemic which has been compounded by COVID-19. Joel Johnson, Family Program Manager at NMHHSS, offered an introduction to the tenets of peer support followed by lessons from his experience working as a peer support worker in hospital settings. Consultant Barbara Frampton led us through a presentation about offering peer support during these challenging times. And finally Alyssa Gremmen from The Centre for Innovation in Peer Support walked us through the tools that will allow us thrive in our work during the pandemic: a virtual peer support toolkit.

The event was proof that even in the toughest moments, the importance and power of peer support is only growing. “As More people are experiencing and benefiting from peer support there is a deeper understanding of the value, accessibility and mutual benefit of peer support,” said Laura Pearson, Executive Director of PeerWorks. “Now is the time to ensure that peer support is available to everyone everywhere in the Provence and that people who share their lived experience to support others are compensated for for there valued  contribution. “

Pulled together through the efforts of our three organizations in just one month – we are incredibly proud of what we saw during our inaugural Peer Support Strong event. What started as Arif Majeed of NMHHSS’s vision to extend Peer Support Week within his community became a large regional conference supported by peers, politics and leaders.

“As the saying goes, individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean and in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we certainly demonstrated that together we can partner, collaborate, and support each other to offer something so wonderful to the individuals working front line in mental health and addictions as peer support workers in their communities across the province,” said Kari Sterling, Regional Director of LERN. 

“Together we as individual peers and organizations we will continue to ride this wave to stay connected, united and navigate these most unprecedented times as we stay afloat and help continue to navigate those with mental health challenges and addictions along their journey of wellness and recovery while demonstrating and proving that we are truly Peer Support Strong!”

Stayed tuned in the coming weeks for online recordings of the presentations for our event and as always, stay health, stay safe and stay peer support strong!