Mental Health Association VP discusses the organization’s mission, highlights its peer support treatments
By Mike Costanza
Q: Please tell us about your position at Mental Health Association of Rochester/Monroe County Inc.
A: I am the vice president of operations, which means I oversee the day-to-day flow of the agency. It is my responsibility to ensure that all of our programs and community initiatives are consistent with the overall mission of our organization.
Q: What does peer-led, peer support mean?
A: Peer support is what sets us apart from other mental health agencies. A peer-led supportive relationship is one between people who have shared mental health experience. A majority of our employees identify as peers and are the ones who deliver our services. Combined with skills often learned in formal training, their experience puts them in a unique position to offer support. Our employees all model recovery, share their knowledge and relate in a way that have made this evidence-based practice rapidly grow in the field.
Q: What makes peer support effective?
A: In all areas of life, no matter what your background may be, we know relationships are crucial to well-being. We may call friends in hard times or we may seek support groups for people who’ve experienced similar challenges like chronic disease or loss of a loved one. In the same way that we reach out to someone who we think will understand, peer specialists can provide that understanding during a time when many feel alienated and hopeless. They provide an important connection and hope that recovery is possible.
Q: Can you describe the broad scope of MHA services?
A: The programs we offer include: life skills, creative wellness opportunities, employment support services, family support services and transitional coaching. We also have our self-help drop-in center which offers support and crisis intervention, from 5-9 p.m., seven days a week. If anyone is interested in becoming a certified peer, and believes they best thrive in a classroom setting, we also have our peer training academy. Our programs aim to provide support, diverse resources and help develop social-emotional skills. This empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their path to mental wellness.
Q: What are the agency’s biggest challenges?
A: In general, I don’t think it’s emphasized enough in public health services just how much the implementation of peer support services can significantly impact a person’s wellness and recovery journey. Both quantitative and qualitative evidence indicates that peer support lowers the overall cost of behavioral health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and days spent in inpatient services. Peer support improves quality of life, increases engagement with services and increases whole health and self-management.
Q: How is MHA funded? Is patient care covered by insurance?
A: We offer services to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Our life skills program, creative wellness opportunities department, employment support services, self-help drop-in center and transitional coaching services are completely free of charge. Programs like these are only possible because of the generous donations from community allies. Our family support services and CORE services do utilize insurance and our team is always willing to help if assistance with insurance enrollment is needed.
Q: Are there more mental health needs in our dark, dreary winters?
A: The winter season is known for reduced sunlight, potentially causing a drop in serotonin and decreasing our vitamin D levels which may trigger depression-related symptoms. Those who already have a depression-related disorder may experience a worsened version of their symptoms.
The cold weather coupled with the darkness can also cause people to avoid activities that were once fulfilling to them (like exercising, seeing friends, outdoor activities, etc.) Staying indoors for prolonged periods can exacerbate existing depression symptoms. With that said, it is crucial to actively utilize resources to mitigate these mood shifts in the wintertime. The MHA of Rochester is here to help identify those resources and serve as a place of respite during those cold months, if needed.
About the MHA
The Mental Health Association of Rochester/Monroe County Inc. is an independent nonprofit organization that has been promoting mental wellness in the community since 1932. MHA of Rochester promotes mental wellness through a spectrum of culturally competent programs and services. MHA fosters an environment to build skills and support people facing mental health challenges, empowering them to make informed decisions on their self-directed path to wellness.
MHA programs aim to overcome the stigma that often accompanies mental illness and seek to recognize mental illness as a common and treatable condition. The agency serves as a clearinghouse of current information for people seeking answers to mental health-related questions.
Today, MHA serves Monroe, Livingston and Ontario counties.
For more information, go to www.mharochester.org.