Project Newsletter Number 1

by Jessica Kwik on May 20, 2011

Project Newsletter May 2011

No. 1, May 2011 — In this issue:

» Supporting Diabetes Self-Management
» What Is Peer Support?
» Interview with Halina Shannan
» Project Update

» Download PDF version


Diabetes and Mental Health Peer Support is a two-year project to provide competency training for Ontario mental health peer supporters in diabetes prevention and self-management strategies.

Supporting diabetes self-management

The Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario, the Ontario Peer Development Initiative, and the Provincial Consumer/Survivor LHIN Leads Network are collaborating on a two-year project (2010-2012) to provide competency training for mental health peer supporters in diabetes prevention and self-management strategies for the high-risk population of people living with a serious mental illness. The project will also increase awareness in the diabetes community of the invaluable role that mental health peer support workers can play.

Among the many health problems facing people with serious mental illness, the high risk of diabetes is well-documented. Diabetes is not only more prevalent in the population of people living with serious mental illnesses but also under-diagnosed and undertreated. Rates of diabetes are two to four times greater than the general population and studies have found a 25 to 33 percent incidence of previously undiagnosed pre-diabetes and diabetes in community-based cohorts, as well as higher rates of complications developing earlier in the course of the illness. Both depression and schizophrenia are risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes.*

Supporting people living with diabetes in managing their illness and improving their health is one of the key features of chronic disease prevention and management. Self-management support goes beyond education and includes providing people with the skills, tools and confidence they need to take control of their illness and make positive changes in their lives.

*For more information, see “Diabetes and Serious Mental Illness: Future Directions for Ontario — A Report from the March 30, 2009 Think Tank on Diabetes and Serious Mental Illness,” April 30, 2009, at

What is peer support?

The Ontario Peer Development Initiative defines peer support as a naturally occurring, mutually beneficial process where people who share a common experience meet as equals to share skills, strengths and hope, and to learn from each other how to cope, thrive and flourish.

Formalized peer support begins when a person with lived experience, who has received specialized training, assumes a unique, designated role within the mental health system to support another individual’s expressed wishes. Specialized peer support training is peer developed and delivered, endorsed by consumer/survivor initiatives*, peer support organizations* and patient councils, and is rooted in principles of recovery, hope and individual empowerment.

Mental health peer support workers are in an ideal position to support their peers to understand their risk of diabetes, to learn and practice prevention strategies, and to self-manage diabetes. Given the shortcomings in the social determinants of health for this population (income, housing, and food in particular), strategies to support self-management and prevention must be accessible, affordable and practical. Mental health peer support workers know and understand this reality and have experience with supporting people to improve their health and quality of life under difficult circumstances. Specialized training in the project’s diabetes module will build on the core competency training that peer supporters have received either through OPDI’s Peer Support Core Essentials™ Program or another peer support training program.

*Consumer/survivor initiatives and peer support organizations are community-based, self-help organizations run by and for consumer/survivors.

Interview with Halina Shannan

Halina Shannan is one of seven trainers who will be reaching peer support workers across the province. She is participating in the project within her role as Program Coordinator at The Link, a consumer/survivor initiative in Smiths Falls, Ontario, which serves people with lived experience of mental illness.

Why did you get involved in this project?

So many of the people who use our consumer/survivor initiative have diabetes and so do I.

Why is peer support particularly important for people with lived experience who are managing a chronic disease like diabetes?

People don’t need to be told what to do again and again. Peer support adds a different dimension by encouraging individuals to build on their own strengths and empowering people to seek out resources in the community. You need the information, but you also need the support of others.

Can you describe your role in this project?

I am a regional trainer who is training other peer support workers in my area on this diabetes module. Once the training is done, I would like to roll out support groups in our consumer/survivor initiative. That’s what people are looking for.

Why is this diabetes module an important addition to peer support?

The module does have the component of giving access to diabetes information. We share the information and resources, and we talk about how we might support each other in participating in healthier lifestyle changes.

What form can support for lifestyle changes take?

It can take various forms depending on the needs and interests of a peer support group. We are coordinating ongoing groups for walking together, preparing meals together, offering support around the tricky things. For example, incorporating vegetables into meals can be difficult to do on one’s own, but it’s easier in small groups. We are developing menus now and getting together in these groups to try it and with an attitude of fun.

What role do you see peer support playing as a part of the health care circle?

Peer supporters can be a really vital component, especially when health care providers have frustrations in telling people to do things in situations where people may not have the capacity to follow through. We have an answer to this. With peer support we get to deal with those feelings around chronic disease and give people hope by talking through and supporting each other. We are the vital link that they may not know about. They may not know that we can be an integral part of the solution.

Halina Shannan
Program Coordinator
MHSP – The Link
Smiths Falls, Ontario

Project Update

The project is moving forward in reaching its two main goals:

  1. To increase the skills of mental health peer support workers in providing support for the prevention and self-management of diabetes in the high-risk population of people living with a serious mental illness
  2. To increase awareness in the diabetes community of the role mental health peer support workers can play in prevention and self-management support

A Peer Supporter Diabetes and Mental Health Training Module has been developed by Christine Grace McMulkin of Christine Grace and Community and is now being pilot tested by peer supporters across Ontario. The module will build on the Peer Support Core Essentials™ Program created by the Ontario Peer Development Initiative (OPDI).

A two-day train-the-trainer session for OPDI peer support trainers was held in Toronto on February 16 and 17, 2011. The session focused on readying the trainers to deliver the Peer Supporter Diabetes and Mental Health Training Module.

An evaluation of the training and diabetes module and its application in the field will be carried out by Cheryl Forchuk, Lawson Health Research Institute. The diabetes training module will then be revised and distributed provincially as a stand-alone resource for training mental health peer support workers delivering peer support in any setting.

The project will also educate the diabetes sector about the existing mental health peer support resources and infrastructure (consumer/survivor initiatives) in Ontario that can be mobilized to address diabetes. A project advisory committee — including representatives from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Local Health Integration Networks, Family Health Teams, Community Health Centres, Canadian Diabetes Association, community mental health service providers and other stakeholders — has been created to guide the knowledge exchange strategy.

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