Youth Peer Support Working to Reduce Self-Injury

NYAPRS Note: The following comes to us courtesy of new NYAPRS intern David Martino. Peer support in Western New York is playing a powerful role to support the recovery and reduce self-injury among our youth. Joining the MHA of Erie County and OMH in offering a half day conference on these topics included NYAPRS member agencies Restoration Society, Mental Health Peer Connection and Compeer.

Workshop displays resiliency of Peer Movement

by Anna Walters May 18, 2016 Ken-ton Bee

At a University of Youth Power conference, Caitlin Neumann spoke with a young girl who appeared to be upset.

"I asked her if I could draw a butterfly on her arm, in reference to the Butterfly Project," Neumann said at a recent Peer Movement Workshop, which discussed the strengths of peers and how they can assist in the recovery of a person's life.

The young girl had previously asked Neumann if she had washable markers, and Neumann told her that she could come back to her room to talk and retrieve markers.

The Butterfly Project is where individuals draw on an arm or part of the body where they want to self-harm. They are not allowed to self-harm and have to let the butterfly fade naturally, according to Neumann.

Neumann told the young girl that when she was younger she used to draw butterflies on her arm to calm down.

"It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my job," Neumann said, adding that the young girl also drew a butterfly on her arm during the moment they shared.

Neumann, a Kenmore West High School graduate, attempted suicide at the age of 15. She shares her story in front of crowds and youth to discuss the power of peer support within the realm of youth peer services in New York State.

Now a youth peer mentor at the Mental Health Association of Erie County Inc., she presented "How Have You Helped Peers in Their Recovery" at the Peer Movement Workshop held on May 13 at the University at Buffalo's South Campus.

The half-day workshop was presented by the Mental Health Association of Erie County Inc. in collaboration with Restoration Society, Inc., New York State Office of Mental Health, Mental Health Peer Connection, Compeer of Greater Buffalo Inc., and the Center for Self-Discovery.

Some of the other speakers included Kathy Lynch, a peer advocate as well as the director at the Center for Self-Discovery at Buffalo Psychiatric Center; Maura Kelly, director at Mental Health Peer Connection; and Randolph Hill, regional advocacy specialist at the Office of Mental Health.

All I wanted was for somebody to ask me, "Caitlin, are you OK?" she said while discussing her experience and treatments at Children's Psychiatric Center.

When she felt that down and depressed, Neumann added that it felt like she had no one.

She says peer support is important because it's something that not all providers can offer and they share a relatable story.

While having a mental health diagnosis as a teenager, Neumann noted that this can be overwhelming and challenging, especially in keeping up with a social life, extracurriculars and hanging out with family.

Neumann says she's part of a movement that's close to her heart but also something that's greater than herself.

"I am part of a movement of young people who are labeled and are seeking change."

She added that people with a mental illness know the child service systems better than anyone.

"So we should have a seat at the table when we talk about what helps and what harms, and we don't need to have a state job or go to college for multiple years to know about mental illness; we experience it every day."