From Relief to Recovery: Peer Support by Consumers Relieves the Traumas of Disasters and Recovery from Mental Illness
This paper is about the love and solidarity, which grow from the suffering that people with mental illness understand first hand. We, who have been through the traumas of the disasters of our lives, immediately understand and feel impelled to respond to the victims of shared disasters. At times of disaster, peer support has served as a vital complement to professional services. Following the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and the destruction of the twin towers in New York City on 9/11, mental health consumers provided valuable peer support services to traumatized individuals. Much like in New York, peers are also being mobilized to assist in relief efforts in Louisiana following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
This paper describes how the peer-based, recovery approach to assisting those with mental illness following disaster is consistent with crisis counseling following disasters. This means that peer support not only provides relief from trauma, but in so doing assists in peoples’ recovery from mental illness. Mental health consumers’ experiences with recovery from a variety of trauma have equipped us well to assisting people at times of disaster. Indeed, the shift in role from passive victim of a disaster to active agent providing assistance plays a valuable role in relief from trauma, as well as recovery from mental illness. The state of Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita serves as a case example of the challenges and advantages of providing peer support services. From the Louisiana experience and others discussed in this paper, it is clearly important to prepare for disasters proactively by developing a network of peer supporters across each state. (Authors)
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