Peer Support Services

kmerancisMy name is Kephen Merancis and I am a professional development instructor, a behavioral health advocate and a certified peer specialist.  I completed my peer specialist certification through the Missouri Credentialing Board in October of 2019.

Since 2008, my full-time career has been with the State of Missouri, where I am currently working in professional development, which is a field that 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, motivation, among other things often referred to as “soft skills.”

As a behavioral health advocate and certified peer specialist, I provide support services to people struggling with behavioral health conditions.  Behavioral health includes 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.

Read about my journey to recovery in my article Life After

As an example, I recently assisted a 27-year-old male who was struggling with 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 disorder or any other behavioral health condition, 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.

Support groups are helpful to individuals working towards and maintaining recovery for the following reasons:

  1. Creates a confidential environment where individuals struggling with a behavioral health condition or related circumstance can openly discuss what they are experiencing or struggling with and be able to receive emotional support from those with a similar condition or circumstance.
  2. Permits social validation for their struggle without the stigma or the insecure and judgmental responses from those who do not have a lived experience with, or understanding of, a behavioral health condition or related circumstance.
  3. Provides an opportunity for those who often struggle alone with a behavioral health condition or related circumstance to communicate with, learn from, and recover or grow alongside those who are similarly affected by their condition or circumstance, establishing a network through which factual information, proven methods, and helpful resources can be openly exchanged.

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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