Since 2016, the Pool of Consumer Champions (POCC) has been spearheading a project to review, curate, and present materials relating to the 50 year history of the Mental Health Consumer Movement. Community organizer Jay Mahler has been at the forefront of the effort, contributing documents and materials, and organizing ancillary events commemorating certain aspects of the Movement. PEERS was invited to investigate and celebrate our own organizational past at an event on December 4th, 2017.

Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services (PEERS) has a 16 year history of empowering mental health consumers, providing wellness and support-group services, and confronting mental health stigma. The PEERS journey has not been a straightforward one, with many hiccups, missteps, opportunities for growth, and successes occurring along the way. Several former PEERS staff members attended this event — including former executive directors — with the goal of collectively establishing a clear narrative of PEERS’ previous achievements and how they relate to the current stability and standing of the organization.

At the event, attendees were asked by facilitator Kelly Robinson to reflect on the successes and challenges of their era at PEERS. For schematic purposes, attendees were seated at tables with fellow employees from their time at PEERS. The eras represented at the event were: 2001 – 2006, 2007 – 2010, 2011 – 2014, 2015 – 2016, and 2017 – present. Previous employees and board members in attendance were: Kelechi, Carol, Khatera, Mary, Shirley, Marti, and Andrée. Carol’s assistant Crystal also attended the celebration.

For 2001 – 2006, the successes included: the first hiring of staff, the first WRAP 5 Day Training on the west coast, and the expansion of WRAP facilitation. The challenges included: overcoming stigma, the size of the organization, and operating on a shoe-string budget.

For 2007 – 2010, the successes included: being awarded the Alameda County Social Inclusion Campaign contract and moving to the new Hegenberger Rd. office. The challenges included: issues with board recruitment and retention, racism faced by staff and consumers, and accessibility issues for the new office location.

For 2011 – 2014, the successes included: media projects such as Mental Health and Wellness Radio and the documentary Shine, the WRAP Around the World Conference, the inauguration of the Transition Age Youth program, and a PEERS exhibit at the exploratorium in San Francisco. The challenges included: an unsuccessful African American stigma reduction program, excessive staff turn over, lost funding for media projects, and an unsuccessful Gala Fundraiser.

For 2015 – 2016, the successes included: an award-winning Transition Age Youth summit hosted at PEERS, the beginning of a Hope and Grace funded WRAP group for women, and the success of the stigma reduction program for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The challenges included: a changing socio-political climate in the external world, significant staff turn over, and transitions in organizational leadership.

For 2017 – present, the successes included: developing a support and stigma reduction curriculum for the Latino/a/x community, a new website, the reinvigoration of the Special Messages program, the growth of the Tobacco Freedom groups, WRAP advanced level facilitation trainings, the development of a new Lift Every Voice and Speak curriculum, the inauguration of several new Transition Age Youth program trainings, the continuation of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) group, eCPR’s ongoing attendance, the countless inspirational events from Reflections and Expressions and Spirituality, and PEERS finally having a full contingent of staff.

For the last part of the event, attendees envisioned their hopes for the future of PEERS. Common goals comprised of: greater resources for Transition Age Youth, diversified funding sources, and continued success for the Everyone Counts Campaign — among other shared aspirations.

This event, and the 50 Year History Project as a whole, allude to the importance of reflecting on the past and using those insights to direct future aims. Moreover, the history of the Mental Health Consumer Movement demonstrates the collective power of mental health consumers to self-organize, self-advocate, and promote health and wellness in the broader community. PEERS is honored to be part of continuing that legacy in the future.

See more POCC and PEERS 50 Years history project collaborations: