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Youth peer support now part of the service array in Michigan – Young voices lead the way

January 08, 2016

Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Krissy Dristy

“Loneliness is the most terrible poverty” – Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

I believe that Mother Theresa had it right when she shared this poignant and meaningful insight with the world. This quote has held great significance and meaning to me throughout my life. Artfully displayed in a painting by the entryway of my parents’ home, I read the words daily on my way out the door each morning. There was something powerful about Mother Theresa’s reminder of the pervasive effect that loneliness has on the human condition. It blew my mind to think that with so many people in the world, we can still feel alone on our paths in life.

As a youth dealing with anxiety and depression, I was no stranger to loneliness. When explaining this part of my story to others today, I have often been met with a look of shock and disbelief. It is true that I had a supportive family, awesome friends and positive school and work experiences. In fact, for the most part, life seemed pretty great. Underneath it all, I often felt isolated in my mind.  Depression can be a dark place, and while I was holding it together on the outside, the pain I felt inside was gripping. Of course, I had my friends and family to support me, but they didn’t understand how it felt to be in my shoes. I just wanted to talk to someone who had been down this path before and had come out on the other side. Someone who understood how hard it could be; someone who wouldn’t judge or look down on me. What I was longing for was Youth Peer Support.

I did not know it at the time, but peer support for youth and families was on the rise in my home state. The partnership between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH) had supported Parent Support Partner (PSP) since 2010. With the Department and statewide family organization working together, a successful training model was created for PSP, and parents and caregivers could access PSP through Medicaid. This was a great triumph for families who, through the public health system were now able to receive support from parents who could directly identify with their challenges. Parents no longer had to feel quite as lonely in the hardships that can come with raising children with SED (severe emotional disturbances).

With Parent Support Partner creating positive outcomes for families, the need to extend peer support to youth with SED was clear. In 2014, DHHS and ACMH worked with a national consultant to collect stakeholder input and began creating a curriculum for State Plan Medicaid Youth Peer Support. By the summer of 2015, ACMH hired for the positions of Statewide Youth Peer Support Coordinator and Lead Trainer. This past November, the first cohort of Youth Peer Support Specialists went through the state approved YPS training. With the hard work and invaluable contributions of many, we are beyond pleased to announce that Youth Peer Support is now officially a part of the service array in the Pre-Paid Inpatient Health Plan/Community Mental Health Service Provider system for youth and families in Michigan.

Youth Peer Support Specialists (YPSSs) are young people between the ages of 18-26 with lived experience who have received mental health services as a youth. YPSSs serve as an integral member of the treatment team and use their voice of experience to help create positive outcomes for youth. They are young adults who have “been there” and used their challenges to build resiliency, and are now leading their own paths to a life of recovery. By connecting with YPSSs, youth peers are less likely to experience stigma and isolation and more likely to feel engaged in services and experience hope for the future. When youth experience positive outcomes from YPS, families, caregivers and the system as a whole benefit too!

I truly believe in the great impact that Youth Peer Support will have for Michigan Youth. Having been lucky enough to co-facilitate Cohort One of YPS, I had the opportunity to meet the amazing group of young people who will pioneer this service in our state. Their courage and willingness to share their stories was inspiring to me, to say the least. I know that had I been able to connect with someone like them, I would have been able to get on the road to recovery sooner. I am so thankful that youth today will not have to wait as long.

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krissyKrissy Dristy is theYouth Peer Support Statewide Coordinator for the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH), a statewide youth and family advocacy organization based in Lansing, MI. Krissy describes her role at ACMH this way – “I support youth and families by training young people with SED to provide support to their peers. Navigating the system while managing a mental health challenge can be a scary and lonely experience at times. Youth Peer Support Partners can relate and can help by providing direct support and assisting with information and skill building.”

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