Publisher’s commentary by Karim Chapman

Despite our broad common interests, divisions in the peer movement are getting in the way of our ability to be successful in the state. In the past two years, there have been efforts in the peer community to push to be on the same page, but individual opinions seem to get in the way of presenting a unified front to the public and to legislators. That has hurt us.

What are some examples of division?

1. Survivors have different perspectives when it comes to police and procedures on mental health. What are the best ways to make progress in these relationships?

2. There has been ongoing debate on definitions for “peer specialist” and “peer worker.” It is hard to make progress on agreement about peer support certification if we can’t even come together on definitions.

3. The peer movement is not on the same page when it comes to community mental health agencies working with peers versus peer-run organizations taking the lead with funding opportunities. Are peer programs only fully “peer-run” if they are within a peer agency? Or do traditional mental health agencies actually present the best opportunity to get peer support available to more survivors? These views are sometimes in conflict.

What’s important to understand is that when legislators see that we’re not on the same page it makes it harder for them to understand our path to success.

Last year, we had two great bills that survivors submitted, and they held no weight as they moved through the process. One was on peer certification, and the failure of that bill to pass has added delay to moving ahead on this important effort.

The other would have established peer respite centers around the state. When the bill died, it left us with no clear path forward on expansion of peer-run programs. Instead, the Department of Mental Health issued a request for proposals this fall for urgent care and hospital diversion programs that made no reference to peer-run models.

I believe that the loss of these two initiatives in the legislature was in part because of the inconsistency that the peer movement has shown through testimony.

I think the focus should be on a model that represents us as psych survivors in Vermont and how we save the state money through the work that we do.

If we cannot work together on our shared goals, we will continue to lose chances to move forward on them.

Karim Chapman is the Executive Director of Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, the publisher of Counterpoint.

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