Case Study: People for Equal Partnership in Mental Health

Arif Majeed“People living with the ups and downs of diabetes and mental illness are powerful role models. What we say is coming from our hearts. We’ve been there…. When you see someone else surviving this then you can tell yourself, ok, I can do it too.” — Arif Majeed, Program Manager and Peer Support Worker, PEP


Setting

People for Equal Partnership in Mental Health (PEP), a consumer/survivor initiative (CSI) based in North Bay, Ontario, is involved in a number of innovative programs. In addition to operating drop-in centres in North Bay and Sturgeon Falls, PEP provides peer support in the emergency department at the North Bay Regional Health Centre (North Bay’s hospital).

From 2.5 positions over 20 years ago, PEP has grown to a staff of 20. In addition to the peer support programs, PEP also operates the Nipissing Family Program, a peer support initiative run by family members for families of people with lived experience of the mental health system, and the Disability Employment Opportunity Centre for people with physical or mental health–related disabilities.

Integrating diabetes support into the activities at PEP

With several staff now trained as diabetes and mental health peer supporters, PEP has integrated diabetes prevention and management into its day-to-day activities at the drop-in centre in North Bay. A healthy eating program now includes recipes for diabetes diets. A budgeting program that takes people grocery shopping is now being mindful of healthy food shopping. The monthly community meal, planned by the healthy eating group and budgeted for by the budgeting group is now healthier: no hot dogs, more soup. The weekly walks and summer yoga on the waterfront now include water and fruit instead of soft drinks. Coffee and tea are available at the drop-in and peer support workers encourage people to cut down on coffee and on the sugar they put in it. PEP also offers a relaxation group twice a month.

Diabetes and mental health peer supporters are also starting new programs. A smoking cessation program is being developed and last spring one of the workers started a community garden on the property of a local boarding home. PEP drop-in participants and the boarding home residents tend to the garden and enjoy the vegetables. Regular barbecues are an important part of gathering people together at the garden.

Trained peer support workers run a monthly diabetes support group that includes people with family members with diabetes as well as people who have diabetes. Guest speakers from the local diabetes services and the public health unit are regulars at the program. Arif Majeed, PEP’s program manager and a diabetes and mental health peer support worker, shares with group members his feelings about having diabetes and his success. “I always said the one illness I don’t want is diabetes because there are things I love to eat that I won’t be able to. So to be diagnosed with diabetes was frustrating. I used to love pop. It was so difficult to cut that out of my diet and now I have forgotten the taste of Coke.”

Diabetes and mental health peer support is working in places where there are no groups, where people who need support are spread out over a large geographic area. A peer worker who lives outside of North Bay provides peer support by telephone and volunteers in a number of mental health services. People have come to know that she is a trained mental health and diabetes peer support worker and they call her for informal diabetes support.

Enablers

Sharing information between diabetes and mental health peer supporters across the province has been helpful. PEP has some unique initiatives that they have shared with others and they have used ideas from other CSIs as well.

Successes

The diabetes support group is attracting newly diagnosed people as well as people who have had diabetes for a while. Arif is seeing that changes are now coming from the members, not from peer support workers. It was members who suggested taking water instead of pop on the walks. Members are saying they want to go for a walk and are now organizing the walks. People are talking about their diabetes more. He hears, “I don’t want to eat that because I have diabetes.” People are also monitoring their health, checking their blood pressure at the pharmacy and their sugar levels at the support group, where glucometers are available.

Arif says that participants seem to feel that a monthly meeting is enough. He thinks that because diabetes awareness is integrated into so many other programs, people don’t feel the need for more frequent meetings.

Why diabetes support within a CSI is effective

A CSI setting provides an opportunity to integrate diabetes prevention and management into many aspects of a person’s life. Not only is managing diabetes a topic for a once-a-month support group, but it’s a part of daily life at the drop-in. And there is nothing like a peer supporter sharing their own experience and empathizing with your feelings.

“People living with the ups and downs of diabetes and mental illness are powerful role models,” explains Arif. “What we say is coming from our hearts. We’ve been there. It’s frustrating when you’re first diagnosed. Having to stop eating food you love, for example. There’s anger and denial. When you see someone else surviving this then you can tell yourself, ok, I can do it too.”


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