My name is Kephen Merancis and I am a professional development instructor, a behavioral health advocate and a peer specialist. I completed my peer specialist certification from the Missouri Credentialing Board in October of last year.
Since 2008, my full-time career has been with the State of Missouri, where I am currently working in human resources. Professional development encompasses education in career skills with the purpose of advancing in management opportunities. In a nutshell, I teach adults leadership skills, conflict management, policy and law compliance, among other things. I have been a life-long resident of Osage County and have been volunteering with the Osage Suicide Awareness Group Effort (O.S.A.G.E.) since September 2018.
As a behavioral health advocate and certified peer specialist, I provide support services to people struggling with behavioral health conditions. Behavioral health encompasses both mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Mental health conditions, in this context, includes but is not limited to chronic stress, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and depression. The term ‘substance use disorder’ refers to what was previously known as addiction, whether that be to illicit substances (drugs) or alcohol. The words addict and abuse have fallen out of common language in the behavioral health industry due to their stigmatic connotations. In other words, they are a form of shaming and that’s not helpful to those struggling towards the recovery process.
My role is to assist in establishing and achieving personal goals, in finding resources and information, and locating services to aid in the recovery process. Essentially, I focus on helping individuals envision a future not controlled by the disabling power of their mental health condition, substance use, or otherwise circumstance. Together we explore the establishment of personal goals and make progress towards an optimistic future. In the pursuit of that future, I continually provide coaching to maintain recovery.
As an example, I recently assisted a 27-year-old male resident of Linn, who was struggling with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. He had become divorced, lost his job, lost his driver’s license, lost visiting rights with his son, was evicted from his apartment, was tricked into buying a truck with a mutilated title with no other form of transportation, he had only a couple hundred dollars left in his bank account, and had no other family in Missouri who could/would assist him. This young man crossed paths with me because he publicly expressed intent to attempt suicide after losing hope and becoming overwhelmed by everything he was up against.
Over a period of two months, we worked together to rebuild his life. I accompanied him when he was admitted into the hospital to receive mental health treatment. After his release I located low-cost healthcare services for the cost of his necessary medication and was able to help him get a job interview. When he was hired, I connected him with a compassionate and understanding rental property owner and helped him secure a place to live.
I guided him through the process of getting his driver’s license reinstated, and I wrote and prepared his court papers that he needed to file for a declaratory judgement through which he attained ownership of his truck. He was re-issued a title and was able to get it registered and street legal. Additionally, when he did not have a communication device, I corresponded with his attorney to convey important information at his request.
Most situations I encounter are not this extensive. Sometimes all people need is information or techniques on handling stress and anxiety, or how to regain motivation. Sometimes people request contact information for a center that provides specific services, or they would like for me to accompany them to meetings, hearings, or appointments where they want the support of someone else’s presence. Sometimes they just want an opportunity to sit down and have me listen to what they have experienced or what they are struggling with. There are times when the things we are struggling with can become less stressful, less scary, or less burdensome when we unpack them and share them with someone else who understands.
Every Peer Support Specialist has struggled with either a mental health condition, a substance use disorder, or both, as it is a requirement for getting into this field of work. My personal background is that I live with bipolar disorder, a condition that affects one’s emotional stability, causing them to fluctuate between phases of major depression and phases of mania. Bipolar is considered a mood disorder, and it is one of several, but there are two specific types of bipolar disorder that have similarities and differences.
The first type causes phases of major depression and phases of hyper-mania (high mental or physical energy). The second type is what I was diagnosed with, it causes phases of major depression and phases of hypo-mania (moderate mental or physical energy). The period that passes between these phases, or what is sometimes referred to as episodes, can be quite varied. Sometimes a phase will last days, other times it may last for months. What triggers an episode is not entirely known, sometimes it can be an external stimulus, or it can seemingly occur for no reason. Currently, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatment is available.
Individuals who are living with type one (bipolar I) can experience very risky behavior during a hyper-mania phase, to include such behavior as uncontrollably spending excessive amounts of money, making rash and consequential decisions without utilizing critical thinking, behaving irrationally and putting oneself or others in danger, delusional thinking, not sleeping for days and still feeling energetic, or any number of other extreme behaviors.
Those living with type two (bipolar II) also experience phases of mania, but more moderately. They may stay awake for extended periods of time and be very productive, experience periods of obsession, extreme focus or creativity, heightened or excessive emotional states, and prolonged optimism. When not experiencing a mania phase, both types may experience major depression, which carries with it a higher risk for suicide.
For those living with bipolar, having self-awareness of our emotional and mental state is the first essential step in the recovery process. With treatment or therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), most can notice or feel the onset or triggering of a phase/episode and learn how to appropriately respond to it. In other words, we know when we are in the process of transitioning from equilibrium or typical mental stasis into a state of depression or hyper/hypo-mania, and this ability to acknowledge that transition is the difference between coping with our disorder and being a victim of our disorder.
For a year now, the Osage Suicide Awareness Group Effort (O.S.A.G.E.) has been offering a support group to individuals struggling with a mental health condition or emotional distress. Support groups are helpful to individuals for the following reasons:
Starting January 2020, this service will be expanded, and a support group will be offered once a month for the family and friends of individuals who have struggled with a mental health condition or who have died by suicide. This support group will meet in Linn in the conference room at the east-side entrance of the Osage County Community Center, next to the State Technical College of Missouri, on the second Tuesday of every month, 7:00 – 8:00 PM (may be extended to 8:30). It will be led by the Osage County Health Department Administrator, Susan Long. If interested in attending or if you have specific questions about this session, please contact her at Susan.Long@lpha.mo.gov. It is requested that all participants be at least 18 years of age.
I will be leading two support groups for those personally struggling with their own behavioral health condition, which includes such things as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use. Thanks to the generosity of Fr. Dan Merz, these support groups will meet at the conference room on the 2nd Floor (street level) of the St. George Notre Dame Hall. A session for those 13 – 17 years of age (participation is dependent upon parental permission) will meet on the second Tuesday of every month, 7:00 – 8:00 PM. The other session will be for those 18 years of age and older, and will meet the third Tuesday of every month, 7:00 – 8:00 PM. If interested in attending or if you have specific questions about these sessions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One-on-one services to members within Osage County will also be made available, but will be by appointment only. These services will take place in the conference room on the 2nd floor (street level) of the St. George Notre Dame Hall, until a more permanent location can be acquired. Scheduled one-hour appointments will be available on every Thursday of each month between the hours of 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Scheduling can be requested by sending an email of inquiry to email@example.com. These appointments are on a volunteer basis only and are free of cost.
Disclaimer: As a peer specialist I am not a personal assistant, nor am I a paralegal or business-oriented consultant who can provide legal advice on any court case. As a peer specialist I am not a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor, therapist, or any other clinical behavioral health practitioner that can diagnose or treat a mental health condition or substance use disorder. I have not had training nor experience in assisting or working with individuals who have developmental or learning disabilities. All resources, information, advice, recommendations, and support services provided are non-clinical in nature and are not a replacement or substitute for mental health services such as therapy or medical advice, typically provided by a licensed behavioral health clinician or physician.
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