The world is in a crisis right now, battling COVID-19 and the adverse effects it has had on people's mental health.
If you need support, but don't know where to look, The Town of Innisfil and The Innisfil Community Foundation have teamed up with the Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County (CMHA) to provide free peer support services to Innisfil residents during these challenging times.
"I wanted to expand access to peer support services within Innisfil now more than ever. Our goal is to allow residents to access social, emotional and practical support with trained Peer Supporters who connect with others from a place of lived experience with mental health challenges, illness and/or addiction. We want to take away the fear and stigma of mental health issues," says Mental Health Consultant Hayley Peek, project manager for the community program.
Peek began working in the mental health field three years ago as a result of her own personal struggles with mental illness.
"At the time, I knew I was struggling, but I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening to me. With the help of family, friends and medical professionals, I started on my own journey of recovery which began with taking a leave from my work at the time," she explained. "As I moved through my own path of recovery, I realized that there was a missing link in how we treat people with mental health challenges and how we support them. There was a real lack of awareness in how to have supportive conversations with someone in struggle."
She wanted to help change the way individuals spoke about mental health and create safe spaces for these open conversations to support others who may be suffering in silence. She began by offering support to her community of King Township, where she previously resided.
An unexpected and difficult shift in her personal life is what landed her in Innisfil, where she sought support from friends and family who lived locally in Alcona. Hayley now works within the community, assisting and providing support to those suffering from their own mental health issues through speaking engagements, trainings and her continued work with CMHA Simcoe County.
When COVID hit in March, all of her in-person work came to a halt. She struggled with her own mental health as a result but with the conversation around mental wellness being more prominent than ever, she spent the summer donating her services to individuals, workplaces and community organizations as a way to give back in a time of severe need.
As September rolled around, she saw an uptick in business organizations wanting more mental health resources and support for their employees; taking care of individuals became a high priority.
"It's been amazing to see organizations dedicating time to this conversation," she said.
"People are burning out and people are exhausted," she said about the pressures of the pandemic and its negative effects on mental health.
She says people who have never experienced mental health issues before COVID may not be familiar with how to cope with their feelings of anxiety and stress.
"My goal is to let people know it's okay to feel overwhelmed or afraid, we are all experiencing different emotions right now. What I want this community to know is that you are not alone and peer support can be a lifeline," said Peek.
The new Peer Support Project is available to any Innisfil resident who is struggling. Support is currently offered over the phone, text or virtually.
“The connection made with another individual through peer support is like no other. Connecting from a human to human level allows for space to support an individual that is free from judgement, stigma and is completely confidential. It’s something I wish I had access to when I was in my darkest of spaces."
Peer support is created through a trusting, equal and empowering recovery-oriented relationship between two individuals who share a similar experience. With the belief that human connection can serve as one of the most powerful tools in recovery and healing, this support service also embodies a mutual understanding of expectations, self-empowerment, self-awareness and accountability. Grounded in self-determination, hope for the future, and a holistic approach to wellness, my intention is to support you, peer to peer, from a place of understanding and free from judgement, as together we will navigate your individual journey of healing. Peer support is not about focusing on the illness or disability but instead works with your ability to make conscious choices about how you choose to better your whole health and mental wellness.
Anyone looking for free support can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 705-726-5033.