Guadalupe Morales at the European Empowerment Seminar
Let’s Talk – Empowering Recovery in Europe
On the 24th of July 2020, the European Empowerment Seminar, Let’s Talk – Empowering Recovery in Europe took place. This seminar was hosted by Mental Health Ireland and co-produced by people from different backgrounds and lived experience with mental health challenges including family members, carers, and service providers. The seminar focused on key concepts of CHIME - Connection, Hope, Identity, Meaning, and Empowerment.
Peer expert Guadalupe Morales, director of Fundación Mundo Bipolar (FMB), discussed the meaningful involvement of peer workers in mental health trainings in the RECOVER-E project.
She noted that a paradigm shift is happening where people with disabilities are no longer viewed as objects of charity, but rather as subjects with rights, one of the core messages from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, she stressed how the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides input for the European Union to actively engage representative organizations of persons with disabilities.
To empower peer workers, FMB organizes trainings called peers2peers. The objectives of this initiative are to develop a teaching programme with users / by users, teach principles of the empowerment and recovery processes, and promote a strong user movement and voice at the political level. Within RECOVER-E, FMB has organized several trainings that take place in person and digitally. Trainings focus on peer involvement in multidisciplinary community mental health teams. According to Guadalupe, working as a peer worker in this way brings several benefits:
"There is a reduction of stigma and discrimination through empathy and hope. Also having a meaningful way to contribute and receive compensation, getting a salary is so very important."
But there are also some challenges in successfully involving peer workers. For example, it may be difficult to include peer workers formally into the team due to local health structures. In addition, the advantages of including peer workers in the team becomes less clear when they are engaged in supporting roles with less decision making power, or because they might experience traditional hierarchies that value more senior medical staff.
Nonetheless, the future seems hopeful and the meaningful involvement of peer workers in community mental health teams is receiving more recognition. The successful trainings in RECOVER-E continue to empower peer workers to leverage the expertise of their lived experiences to support others. When it comes to making changes within mental health care systems and caring for clients, Guadalupe reminded us of the importance of including perspectives of those directly affected. In her words, “nothing about us without us”.