As a person with the mental illness disability of schizoaffective disorder, I am quite familiar with the inpatient mental hospital experience. I have frequently devolved into crisis and found myself in the Emergency Room.

Being in a day programme provided me with stability and support as I slowly rebuilt my life. Case workers were readily available to talk to, and they connected me to resources and opportunities for people with disabilities who want to return to work.

It was here that I learned about the work of mental health peer specialists. These are mental health professionals who have a lived experience with mental illness. They publicly disclose their status on the job to help others with empathy and support. They also serve as advocates, speaking up for people when they feel unheard and oppressed. I decided to pursue this profession for myself. In 2013, my day programme successfully aided me in applying to attend Howie the Harp Advocacy Center in New York for classes in peer specialist work.

I found myself at Miele’s Respite, TSINY’s crisis respite centre. Located on the campus of Creedmoor State Psychiatric Center, respite here serves as an alternative to inpatient psychiatric hospitalisation. If a person finds herself slipping into relapse, she can voluntarily sign into respite as a way to avoid the ER. Unlike a hospital, respite has no medical personnel on the premises. Instead, it is fully staffed by peer specialists.

Read more in Psyche.